Best school shoes 2024 for boys and girls including Kickers, Clarks & Lelli Kelly

Our pick of the best school shoes 2024

A collage of some of this year's best school shoes, including ones from Clarks and Start Rite
(Image credit: Future)

The best school shoes can be hard to find. Rip tape or laces? Hightop or not? Are Kickers still in? It's a minefield.

We're here to help you navigate that minefield with this guide to the best schools shoes to buy for the new school term. It's a common misconception that ill-fitting shoes will damage a child's feet when, in reality, there isn't much research to support this. There is, however, evidence that ill-fitting shoes can hinder your child's motion. Therefore, the best school shoes are ones that fit properly, as well as being comfortable and sturdy enough to withstand all the running, jumping, skipping, falling, and endless activity that kids typically get up to in the school playground. 

Recent updates

This article has been updated to include some new products. We have checked the items featured are in stock and also removed any price information that is out of date.

The best school shoes are well-fitting and don't restrict movement. Factor in that kids typically wear their school shoes for seven-plus hours a day, five days a week But school shoes should also have the right amount of room for growth so that you're not having to replace them in a few months' time. Also, good shock absorption is a must for school shoes, along with durable soles. 

Best school shoes 2024: at-a-glance

This year we've done the leg work (pun intended...) for you, testing lots of different school shoes from lots of well-known brands including Kickers, Lelli Kelly, and Clarks, to bring you this roundup.

If you're in a hurry to find the best school shoes for 2024, these are our top six recommendations:

  • Best school shoes overall: Palmer Mist Older Black Leather - £46 | Clarks
  • Best vegan school shoes: Junior Unisex Kick Hi Vegan - £60 | Kickers
  • Best hardwearing school shoes: Extreme - £53 | Start-Rite
  • Best Nike school shoes: Nike Jordan Black Air 1 Low Youth Trainers £65 | Schuh
  • Best school shoes for support: Primus School II Juniors - £75 | Vivo Barefoot
  • Best value school shoes: Rain Unicorn School Shoes  - £30 |ToeZone

Best school shoes 2024

An image of the Palmer Mist Older Black Leather shoe from Clarks, one of this year's best school shoes

(Image credit: Clarks)

1. Palmer Mist: £46 | Clarks

Delivery: FREE Standard Delivery within 5 working days Returns: FREE returns and exchanges on all items

Trainer-lovers will be well into these cool kicks with school-ready styling. Part of the Clarks Kids Pokémon collection, these black leather uppers feel soft yet durable.

There's no denying that the Pikachu tail and rubber Poké Ball features are what sold these school shoes to our tester - he couldn't wait to show them off in the playground. 

The rip-tape straps make these easy to pop on and off, and they feel light enough that little legs didn't get tired running around in them. For kids who love a bit of character branding or who like playing Pokémon in the playground, these are definitely the best school shoes by far.

An image of a pair of Junior Unisex Kick Hi Vegan boots from Kickers - our pick of some of this year's best school shoes

(Image credit: Kickers)

2. Junior Unisex Kick Hi Vegan £60 | Kickers

Delivery: FREE UK next-day delivery Refundable: FREE returns

The iconic Kick Hi is a classic ankle boot with the distinctive Kickers chunky sole, triple stitch detailing, and a handy side zip. Apart from some subtle branding updates (including green details on the tabs and sole instead of the former red and green), these look just like the classic leather variety. The vegan version also comes in a green fully recyclable shoebox that's made using 90% recycled material and natural soya ink.

'My 8-year-old daughter chose these for her first day at school because she thinks they're by far the best school shoes of all those we tested,' says our Consumer Editor Heidi Scrimgeour. 'She's an Eco-Councillor at school so the fact that they're vegan is a major plus in her eyes! And I'm just delighted that the vegan version is no more expensive than the leather design.'

Perfect for the transition to a new season at the end of summer, these robust but stylish boots will see youngsters through everything from rainy autumnal days to full-on winter weather. They couldn't be easier to put on or take off, thanks to the side zips, but the laces mean they still look very much like big-kid boots.

An image of a pair of 'Extreme' shoes from Start Rite, some of this year's best school shoes

(Image credit: Start Rite)

3. Extreme Pri £53 | Start Rite Shoes
£3.99 Standard delivery Returns: FREE UK returns

Meet Start Rite's toughest ever boys' school shoe – made using durable leather with a robust toe bumper that can handle everything from playground football to kicking Autumn leaves. We like that the sole unit wraps around the whole shoe, making it less likely to peel away as some school shoes do all too soon into September. 

We put these to the test in the park and in the playground and found they still looked smart after some serious playtime. They're well-padded for max comfort and feature soft premium materials so that you feel you can see where your money has gone, but they also look cool as far as the kids are concerned. 

If your child's school states 'no trainers' in their school uniform policy, we think these are a good compromise. And if you explain they're from Start Rite then they'll have to accept that they're 'proper' school shoes!

Riptape fastening makes for easy fastening and the grip is good on a variety of different surfaces. These school shoes are also surprisingly lightweight which is a plus for not slowing down little legs during playtime races.

The Nike Jordan black air 1 low Youth Trainers

(Image credit: Nike)

4. Nike Jordan Black Air 1 Low Youth Trainers £65 | Schuh

Delivery: UK Standard FREE Refundable: FREE for account holders or £2.50

We've searched high and low to find the best school shoe for boys and girls who, frankly, hate school shoes. Whether you have a football-mad kid on your hands who loves a kickabout in the playground or a fashion-loving youngster who'd rather look cooler than school shoes allow, we've found the perfect pair.

They're Nike - with the classic Swoosh on the sides - so label-loving kids will be super keen to be seen in these shoes. But they're also all-black so there's a pretty solid chance of them getting past the school uniform police. In fact, we asked a former headteacher if she'd allow these as school shoes and she gave us an official yes. 

With a smooth leather upper and a chunky sole, these trainers are durable enough to withstand plenty of playground action but smart enough to look presentable week after week. 

Our little tester loves these trainers and reports that they're not too chunky so they don't slow her down in the playground. 

View Nike Jordan Black Air 1 Low Youth Trainer at Schuh

An image of the Primus School II Juniors

(Image credit: VivoBarefoot)

5. Primus School II Juniors: £75 |  VivoBarefoot

Delivery: £7 (3-5 working days) Returns: Full refund within 100 days

Ideal for older kids who like standing out from the crowd, these distinctive 'barefoot' style school shoes are made from super-soft-yet-hardwearing Wild Hide leather produced from free-roaming, small-scale cattle herds. The multi-terrain sole is designed for maximum flexibility and toe protection, while the 2mm base and sticky rubber hexagon design allow young feet to feel the ground - and thus move more naturally than conventional shoes allow. 

Forget the creaky, clunky school shoes of the past - these are built like the brand's best-selling barefoot sports footwear but in black leather with school uniforms in mind - helping keep feet moving as close to barefoot as possible, even when they're at school.

Our little tester wasn't too sure about these at first - they certainly feel very different from traditional school shoes. But she soon got used to them and found them both super comfortable and surprisingly cool - even the teachers were asking her where she'd got her funky shoes from!

The RAIN Unicorn School Shoes from ToeZone

(Image credit: ToeZone)

6. Rain Unicorn School Shoes £30 | ToeZone 

Delivery: £3.50 or FREE on orders over £35 Refundable: £3 return charge within 30 days

With stick-out ears and horns, and a cute, embroidered unicorn face, these patent Mary Janes are the ultimate novelty playground footwear. 

What’s more, a memory foam in-sock, robust coated leather and a non-marking sole make them a practical (as well as pretty) option. Like all ToeZone shoes, they also come with their own free drawstring bag - perfect for keeping them looking good, even after weeks of playtime activity. 

And for just £30? What a stylish bargain. 

Etch Trail Kid boots from Clarks, some of this year's best school shoes

(Image credit: Clarks)

7. Etch Trail Kid Black Patent: £51 | Clarks  

Delivery: FREE within 5 working days Returns: FREE returns for refund or exchange

Also part of the Clarks Kids Pokémon collection, the awesome 'Etch Trail' boot combines classroom-smart styling and fun Pikachu-inspired detailing with all the features that little feet need for lasting comfort – from breathable antimicrobial linings to soft, supportive cushioning.

Our little tester was delighted by these boots from the moment they arrived and couldn't wait to get them on. They're a brilliant buy for heading into Autumn as they allow for thicker, longer socks that keep ankles warm rather than just feet, and they look super smart and stylish with tights. 

Our tester found them easy to put on and take off but, as is often the case with a patent school shoe, they looked a little worse for wear sooner than some of the other varieties of school shoes that we put to the test.

Infant Boys Tovni Twin Flex Leather, some of the best school shoes

(Image credit: Kickers)

8. Infant Boys Tovni Twin Flex: £45 | Kickers 

Delivery: FREE next-day delivery Returns: FREE returns

What's matte black, looks as sporty as a sneaker (but isn't), and has tons of features to keep your youngster looking great and staying comfy? It's the Tovni Twin Flex. A favourite for treading the schoolyard, this pair boasts Kickers' renowned robustness along with a sporty bumper and reflective panel detail. 

These have the Kickers signature triple stitch branded details and padded nylon collar, along with two hook and loop straps for what the brand calls 'out the door in 30 seconds flat' practicality.

While the design of this shoe was a little less appealing to our young tester than, say, the character-themed alternatives we tried, our parents feel these are one of the best school shoes to buy in terms of value for money. No amount of scuffing toes along the curb is going to make these smart school shoes look scruffy any time soon!

Best school shoes lellie kelly black patent

(Image credit: Lelli Kelly)

9. Lelli Kelly Helen Black Bow Patent School Shoes £60  | Schuh 

Delivery: FREE delivery 2-5 working days Refundable: FREE for Shuh account holders, £2.50 otherwise

Lelli Kelly has been around for 30 years. And they are THE shoes for style and substance, plus every pair comes with a free gift too. Cute, and comfortable, they all have soft breathable leather insoles and are handmade.

We can't lie, our little tomboy was not a huge fan of these shoes so they're best avoided if you've got a daughter who's more of a Lioness than a little Princess. That said, her friends went gaga for these shoes so they'll definitely make the average girly girl the envy of her playground chums. 

School shoes, Black patent with white stitching and bow strap

(Image credit: Charles Clinkard / Lelli Kelly)

10. Lelli Kelly Irene Patent Bow School Shoe £41.90 | Charles Clinkard 

Delivery: FREE delivery Refundable: FREE within 365 days of receipt

A better buy if you've got a daughter who doesn't do girly shoes, these also come with a cool pair of Lelli Kelly socks.

Mum-of-two, Dionne bought these Lelli Kelly shoes for their edgy style. "They remind me of my Doc Martens, I love them. And the solid chunky sole means my daughter won't be getting wet feet through winter," she told us. 

Yes, they feature bows but the durable rubber sole adds a definite touch of effortless chic.

School shoe, Black patent mary jane style

(Image credit: Charles Clinkard / Clarkes)

11. Clarks Prague Brill O Girls School Shoes £52 | Charles Clinkard 

Delivery: FREE delivery Refundable: FREE within 365 days of receipt

A classic style that will carry your child through their school year effortlessly and for not much more than £50. 

Dad-of-one, Matt tells us; 'My daughter isn't into all the diamantes and flashy shoes that are popular with her friends; she'd have 'boy shoes' if she could. So these were perfect for her. And I'm happy they're a solid sole and hard-wearing patent finish.'

The Stirling School Shoe from B Greater

(Image credit: BGreater)

12. Stirling School Shoe £36.75 | BGreater

Delivery: From £4.65 Refundable: 99p returns

What we love about the BGreater shoes is that they're designed to offer a more natural fit, with additional room to ensure that kids' growing feet can develop properly and without restriction. 

An affordable barefoot shoe, the Stirling has flex grooves in the sole to help feet move the way they were meant to. We also love that the Stirling is a unisex shoe since our little tester hates 'girlie' school shoes but feels a bit conspicuous wearing 'boys' shoes. If only more shoe brands thought to make shoes that both boys and girls can wear and feel good in. 

The Stirling has a robust rubber toe cap to reduce wear and tear plus durable leather uppers. The lining is made with 50% recycled yarns from used plastic bottles and antimicrobial technology to keep feet smelling fresh.

A pair of school shoes from Marks and Spencer

(Image credit: Marks and Spencer)

13. Kids' Leather Freshfeet™ School Shoes, £31-£35 | Marks and Spencer

Keep little feet feeling fresh all day with these leather school shoes with Freshfeet™ technology to keep odour-causing bacteria at bay. They're made from responsibly sourced leather and the lining and insock are made with recycled materials. They have easy rip tape fastenings so they're easy for youngsters to put on and take off, while the scuff-resistant coating should keep them looking smart long after the new school term has begun. 

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How to choose the best school shoes

When shopping for your kids' school shoes, podiatrist and mother Dr Lindsay Hill tells us that going shopping in the afternoon rather than the morning is a good idea as feet can swell throughout the course of the day. Shoes that feel comfortable in the afternoon, therefore, are likely to feel comfy all day long. Dr. Hill also recommends taking 'school socks' along with you for the fitting.

It's vital, she adds, to choose school shoes that offer the right degree of support. Shoes that are too flat, such as ballet pumps, as well as anything with a significant heel, are a 'definite no-no' if you want the best school shoes for your child. Here, Dr. Hill shares her top tips for shopping for new school shoes:

  • Shop for shoes in the afternoon rather than in the morning
  • Check your child can balance in the shoes (stand on one foot/hop etc)
  • Take 'school socks' with you to wear at fitting
  • Check the fit with the child standing
  • Ensure soles have good flexibility (no restriction on movement)
  • Look out for creasing when the child squats and when they go up on tiptoe - this means they're a bit too big and may pinch little toes
  • Check the back of the shoe to ensure the foot doesn't slip up out of it 
  • Encourage the child to walk around the shop to get a feel for how the shoe fits

Check the school shoe policy

When you hear 'best school shoes' you think black, lace-up and smart. But not all schools have the same uniform policy when it comes to school shoes. Our Family Editor Stephanie Lowe tells us: 'When my son started Reception last year, the uniform for him was jogging bottoms and soft plimsolls. In Reception, a lot of learning is done through play so the children's clothes and shoes need to be super comfortable to support that.' 

It's always worth reading your school uniform policy thoroughly since some schools don't permit school shoes with embellishments such as diamantes, flashing lights, or elaborate stitching.

Bear in mind that some schools also have different uniform policies for different year groups, so don't assume that what was fine on their feet last year will pass muster for the new school year. 

Mum-of-three, Dionne, got caught out one year. 'I just assumed it was the same as before -and we get A LOT of letters from school, so I don't read them all, I'll admit,' she says. 'My advice is definitely to read the small print when it comes to the school shoe requirements at the start of each new school year. My son was sent home on the first day as his shoes didn't fit the new uniform policy.'

Plan ahead

It may seem logical to leave buying school shoes until the last week in August. But many parents are then stung with little to no stock to choose from by the time they get to the store - not to mention long queues at the tills and crowds of irritable parents and bored children.

Yes, children's feet grow over the summer holidays. But it's better to go up half a size and shop early to ensure you get the best school shoes for your budget rather than leaving it to the last minute and ending up with whatever's left in stock. 

Choose age appropriate shoes

Age is a huge factor when choosing the best school shoes - follow the guidance to pick the right pair:

Infant school: age 4-7 years old - Choose rip tape fastenings over laces or buckles, which can set little ones up for failure in a fast-paced environment such as school. 

Junior school: age 7-11 years old - While rip tape fastenings make it easier for children to do their own shoes up quickly, many children are ready to manage zips, buckles, and laces at this stage, and many kids will be keen to avoid shoes that seem 'babyish' to their peers.

Senior school age: 11-16 years old - Hardwearing is the priority whren it comes to the best school shoes for this age group. Shoes made using scuff-resistant leather can withstand a football match on the concrete playground, while back-collar padding helps shoes to keep their shape - no matter how many times they get kicked off without undoing the laces!

Choose well-fitting shoes

If you're buying school shoes online, keep all labels on when they arrive and try them on, if possible, on a carpeted surface. First, test for the heel grip by holding the ankle with one hand and pulling down gently on the heel of the shoe. If it stays in place, it's a good fit. 

Next, use your fingers to feel around the top of the shoe and check there are no gaps. Then feel around the ankle to make sure the shoe does not touch the anklebone. If it does, it could rub the child's foot and cause a blister.

Finally, feel the upper of the shoe to locate the end of your child's longest toe. Apply a little pressure to check the toe is not pressing against the end of the shoe. There should be a little growing room for comfort – but not too much that the shoe feels too big.

Are Kickers good school shoes?

Kickers have been about for 32 years. Some parents might even remember pestering their parents for some back when they were kids. They are a well-known and well-loved brand and they receive consistently good reviews from shoppers. 

Kickers are known for their trademark durable rubber soles and they have a huge selection to choose from, including their vegan range - which comes in at the same price point as the original leather shoes, so parents can make eco-friendly choices without paying over the odds.

How much are school shoes?

School shoes range in price depending on where they're from. If you're looking at supermarket school shoes the price point can start from as little as £5. Mid-range school shoes usually cost between £25 and £39, while premium school shoes brands such as Clarks and Start Rite can be upwards of £40 a pair. 

How long should school shoes last?

This depends on many factors, such as how active the child is, as well as their age. Many parents buy shoes in the hope they'll last a whole school year. In reality, it's normal for growing feet to need a new pair of school shoes well before the end of the school year.  

How can I label school shoes?

Use a Sharpie pen (Amazon, £1.50) or a sticky name label (Amazon, £6.99). These are easy options and don't irritate feet. Stick them on the inside tongue or the inside heel of the shoe.  

What school shoes are in fashion?

Timeless classics such as Mary Janes and T-bars for girls and loafers or brogues for boys are a good choice for smart and stylish school shoes. Remember, though, that school shoes ultimately need to be comfortable and robust - and that fashion changes fast so what's considered cool by kids this summer might well be naff by the time it's November!

Check out our confessions about what parents are most looking forward to once the kids go back to school (#6 though…) or you might find our pick of the best back-to-school supplies a useful read. 

Heidi Scrimgeour
Deputy Editor

As a parenting specialist for more than 15 years, Heidi has written for most national newspapers and for a wide range of consumer magazines, including Mother & Baby where she was the Shopping Editor for six years, looking after regular consumer features including buying guides and gift roundups.