Feels like a fait accompli

A little while ago I wrote about proposed changes to the dress code at my children’s school (School Uniform). I am aware that the school received a large number of emails from parents about this issue, as well as responses via their website. There was also a chance for pupil representatives to have their say within the school. The parents and pupils that I spoke to were overwhelmingly against the changes. As the school has not published details of the consultation I cannot know if this was a majority view.

The school website has now been updated with a revised dress code for sixth formers that will come into effect when the new academic year starts in September. There have been concessions, for example plain jeans will be allowed although not t-shirts; boys will still have to wear collared shirts or polo shirts. Ultimately though, the promise that a new wardrobe for school would not need to be purchased has been shown to be the hot air that I feared. Neither of my elder two children choose to wear the sort of clothes that will be required, so will need to spend money that they are trying to save towards the future cost of university on clothes for school which they are unlikely to wear elsewhere.

The school website has this to say about the sixth form dress code:

The Sixth Form are role models and leaders in a uniformed school, and should be setting an example to the younger students.  If they look smart, it sends a positive message and shows respect for the school, fellow students and the staff.  


Clothing should be smart and appropriate for the modern workplace.

Reading through the list of clothing that is deemed appropriate it is clear that the school sees ‘the modern workplace’ as an office based environment. What the school regards as smart is not just clean and neat as I would define it, but staid and dull.

I would like to ask the school this: if the sixth form are role models then why are they only allowed to identify as office workers? What of the bricklayers, electricians and plumbers? The actors, musicians and artists? What of the entrepreneurs who will offer a relaxed workspace that encourages innovation (think Facebook, how often does Mark Zuckerburg wear a collared shirt?). I could go on; there are many, many jobs that do not demand office wear.

Has the school considered that the younger students are more likely to be inspired by older students with a bit of oomph and individuality rather than those who would not look out of place in a call centre? This appears to be an attempt to turn students into a leader approved homogeneous mass, not an example that aspirational younger students are likely to look up to.

Respect is earned through actions and cuts both ways.

The pupils at my children’s school are required to choose their GCSE subjects from choice blocks. The reason given for this is that the school believes students will benefit from not specialising too soon. All are encouraged to take a practical subject such as cooking or woodwork, plus an arts subject such as music or drama, alongside the core academic subjects of English, maths, science, language and humanities.

The result of this is that, for academic pupils, an inordinate amount of time is required to complete coursework and practicals for subjects that are unlikely to be of much use in their future, and which they will truly struggle to get good grades in. To excel in these practical subjects students require natural talent as well as application. Excellent grades in all subjects are needed to gain entry to the most demanding subjects at the top universities so taking these subjects is an added source of stress at a very demanding time.

I get the argument about a rounded education. I see the benefits of having to work hard. I do not understand how the school can square this insistence on taking practical subjects with it’s apparent belief that ‘the modern workplace’, to which it expects its pupils to aspire, is an office.

Schools like to talk of and parade famous and successful alumni. When an ex pupil represents their country at the Olympics, releases a number one album, or has their artistic endeavour recognised on stage or television, the school likes to bring them back to talk to current pupils, to inspire and encourage them. None of these successful people are likely to go to work each day in smart trousers and a collared shirt. The famous alumni paraded are rarely those who have done quite well in an office based environment.

I do not wish to put down working in an office, merely to illustrate that it is only one of many career paths. I do not object to collared shirts, simply the removal of choice. ‘Role models and leaders’ come in many guises.

As a final point I would like to draw attention to the following article that appeared in the Guardian newspaper yesterday: Enforcing school dress codes teaches girls to be ashamed, not ‘modest’. Sixth form is the final stepping stone that our children will take before embarking on adulthood. Some will go on to attend university, others will be starting specialised training or attempting to enter the work force full time. It is important to consider the sort of a message that we are giving them as we send them out into the world as independent adults.

I would like to see the school encourage its pupils to be innovative thinkers, to develop their burgeoning individuality, to take personal responsibility for the choices that they make in how they present themselves to the world, to be open to diversity. I am not against a dress code, but the existing one was broad enough to encompass student choice whilst giving the school leverage to ensure that the small minority of students who chose to abuse it could be reined in.

This change was unnecessary and sends so many negative messages to the students. I wonder has the long term impact been properly thought through.





School Uniform

It is common in this country for children to be required to wear a prescribed uniform to school. Although I object to having to pay over the odds for a polycotton sweatshirt merely because it has a school logo sewn on, it does save me money in the end as my kids can get away with wearing the same couple of pairs of trousers and sweatshirts day in, day out until the clothes are outgrown or fall apart. Pupils still manage to express their individuality through the way they wear the clothes, the accessories they choose and the style of their hair; but a uniform removes the need to vary clothing on a daily basis.

The school that my children attend does not currently prescribe a uniform for sixth formers. There is a dress code, but it offers plenty of scope for individual choice, thus helping the emerging young adults to prepare for the choices they will make regarding personal presentation when they leave. As with the younger pupils who shorten their uniform skirts, dye their hair or plaster on the make up (supposedly not allowed), there are a few sixth formers who do not abide by the stated code. They are in the minority.

Yesterday I received an email informing me that there is a proposal to change the sixth form dress code. Although this stated that the proposal has been drawn up by a ‘working party of students’, it was news to all pupils and parents that I have been in contact with.

For anyone interested, the details are here: Sheldon School – DRESS CODE.

The gist of the new code is that ‘Your clothing should be smart and appropriate for the professional work place’. It then goes on to suggest such items as chinos or tailored trousers, polo shirts, cardigans or suits. They appear to be trying to dress sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year olds like members of an elite golf club.

Work places vary enormously in their dress codes. Some have a uniform (banks, shops, restaurants), others demand smart business suits, but there are a great many that allow employees to wear jeans and t-shirts or variations on that theme. Employers now recognise that personal comfort can improve the quality of an employees work.

But we are not talking about the professional work place here, we are talking about school. From sixth form a great many pupils will go on to university where they will be able to wear whatever they choose. These young people do not need to be trained at sixteen to wear a certain type of clothing suitable for just one potential future.

I feel angry about this proposal for a number of reasons:

  1. Schools exist to educate pupils. Whilst the definition of education is broadening alarmingly, it is still a place of learning. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt is not going to affect a pupil’s ability to learn.
  2. This change suggests that the school does not trust it’s young adults to make appropriate choices. When I visit the school I struggle to differentiate between sixth formers and the young teachers. This suggests that most of the pupils are already dressing in a manner that suits this place of work.
  3. By prescribing what is effectively a sixth form uniform, clothing will need to be purchased that will not be worn by many outside of school. This added cost comes at a time when the looming cost of attending university is a serious issue. If school wishes to dress it’s sixth formers in a uniform, stick to the one that they have worn since they were eleven. I would object to this change but at least it would be cheaper.
  4. The existing dress code already demands modesty and common sense (e.g. no beach wear). If a few individuals are not abiding by the rules then enforce them. It is not just the sixth formers who wear extremely short skirts or trousers that allow a display of underwear. A uniform will not, in itself, enforce tidy presentation.
  5. Throughout sixth form exams and important decisions about the future are omnipresent. Students are stressed enough without being made to dress in a way that does not suit their emerging sense of self. The school appears to be trying to turn the pupils into a homogeneous mass at a time when they should be exploring their individuality and where they wish to go in life.
  6. Many pupils already have part time jobs and will understand the need to present themselves differently depending on their environment.
  7. Pupils learn better when they feel positive and focused. This sort of policy breeds resentment.
  8. The proposed change is unnecessary. The stated aim of the exercise can be achieved by enforcing the existing dress code.

The popular perception of teenagers as a bunch of moody neanderthals who are slaves to their hormones is not borne out in the young people that I meet through my children. Many of them show more empathy, acceptance and common sense than the middle aged and elderly that I encounter. Just like the adults I know, sometimes they do daft stuff, but dressing them for a last century country club is not going to turn them into the sort of people we need to improve our country.

The email from school arrived in my in box yesterday and I thought at first that it was an April Fool’s joke so ridiculous did it seem. If the school wishes to tidy up pupil appearance they can do so without banning jeans and t-shirts or hoodies. Those who wish to break the rules will do so from whatever base they are starting from; the appearance of certain members of the uniformed lower school proves this point.

I am hoping that this proposal is not a fait accompli. I will be contacting the school to pass on my views and can only trust that they will be considered.

If pupils wish to dress according to this new code then they should be free to do so, just as others should be free to dress as suits them within the existing boundaries. By all means insist that pupils and teachers alike dress in a clean, tidy and modest manner, but this can be achieved without such absurd diktats.




Clear out

Who decided that boy’s shirts should button up a different way to girl’s shirts and why? I mean, it makes no sense. I am sure that both could cope with fastening to the right or to the left if that was the way it had always been. As it is, I am throwing away school shirts that are still perfectly serviceable because my daughter no longer needs to wear school uniform and my boy’s will not countenance the idea of wearing a girl’s shirt to school. Knowing the environment that they must face there each day I don’t blame them.

My daughter is my first born but I was pregnant with her brother before she was six months old so I was always planning ahead when buying her all the things that a child may need or benefit from. Not for her the pretty, frilly, pink things that shops love to promote for our little princesses. My girl wore onesies in bright, primary colours with cartoon animals or stars on them that could suit a boy or a girl.

As the years passed by my daughter was provided with shorts and t-shirts; tartan trousers and roll necks; easy to wear, pull on clothes that she could manage herself, play freely in, and that could then be passed down to her brothers. Kids grow so fast the outfits could just about be made to last until my third child had outgrown them before being consigned to the recycling box, stretched and stained beyond use by anyone else.

I would gratefully accept hand me downs from my sister’s twin boys and from friend’s children who never seemed to hammer their clothes as mine did. Perhaps they were just bought more to start with so each outfit saw less play. Most of these clothes were designed for boys but looked just fine on my daughter. I made sure that she had a dress or a skirt for parties, but these pretty, girlie clothes always seemed an extravagance and would be disposed of, outgrown well before they had worn out. Sure she looked cute, but tights are not as easy to deal with on an active child as a pair of elasticated shorts or trousers.

My daughter does sometimes comment that I dressed her in some odd looking outfits. This might concern me more if I didn’t have the same view of the clothes that my mother put my sister and I in when we were that age. My mother thought we looked so gorgeous; I look back at the photographs and cringe. My mother was a dressmaker, interested in fashion and liked to knit. To this day I hate hand knit clothes and refused to put my children in any such thing. I fear I offended a few elderly relatives with this hard line attitude.

I still try to get the most out of the clothes that I buy my children, although the days when things could be passed down are long gone. My boys are more or less the same height despite having a two year age difference, but they are very different shapes. They also have their own ideas about what they wish to wear and these differ markedly.

Meanwhile, my daughter has developed a more individual dress style. Her clothes are very much her own, although she will sometimes find something in my wardrobe that she can make use of without asking. I can’t complain too much. I only realised that she had taken a pair of sandals on a school trip to France, that I had bought myself for the summer, when I noticed she was wearing them in the photographs she showed me on her return.

Unlike their casual clothes though, many items of school uniform can be passed around. When a PE kit has been forgotten in a locker, a spare can be pilfered from a brother’s wardrobe; if mother has failed to wash enough shirts as quickly as expected, the name label inside the clean ones available can be ignored.

My daughter took great pleasure in throwing away the very tatty and rather tight, grey, school skirt, that should probably have been replaced six months previously, when she finished her exams in June. All being well she will enter sixth form in September where no uniform is required. In the meantime I have shared her school sweatshirts between her brothers who seem able to shred the sleeves of these garments within months. My daughter has worn hers for two years and they still look in reasonable condition, certainly good enough to act as spares.

But the shirts cannot be shared out. They have been worn for a couple of years so are not sufficiently pristine to pass on to another family; they have been bagged for recycling. I feel so uncomfortable throwing away clothes that have not developed tears or holes or stains that cannot be sorted. It feels so profligate and wasteful, which goes against my nature.

And then, of course, there will be the issue of what my daughter is to wear to school next year. When she is in civvies every day she is going to need a bigger selection of outfits than she currently possesses. My boys are always running out of garments of one sort or another in the holidays because, for most of the year, they only need to be out of uniform at weekends. I can see that an expensive shopping trip is going to have to be endured later this month.

I would happily take my boys along but suspect they will decline the opportunity to supplement their meagre collection of clothes. In their eyes, such shopping trips are unbearably tedious; my daughter likes nothing better than to get me into her sort of clothes shops where she can charm my credit card into action.

I have had a very successful clear out over the past few days. Bins have been filled, the local recycling centre visited and space created in the house and garage. Now I need to make sure that we don’t just fill those spaces up again too quickly. Certain items of outgrown school uniform will need to be replaced, and I don’t expect the house to stay this clean and tidy for long. It would be good though if we could manage to get by with a little bit less than we have just thrown away. I suspect that my children are unlikely to agree.


So many boxes and bins; unwanted items must now be sorted for recycling. 

Playing at dressing up

Most young kids that I know like to play at dressing up. This is often as simple a game as hanging a square of fabric around their shoulders to form the cape that will transform them into a superhero. A stick found on the ground can be a wizard’s wand, a knight’s sword, a magical staff (none shall pass!), a Sith Lord’s lightsaber or an assassin’s gun. A small child may try on their mother’s dress and become a princess, tottering around in high heels that are eight sizes too big. They may play with her make up and think themselves beautiful with their technicolor face paint unevenly applied.

Playing at dressing up in the privacy of home can be such fun, but as soon as fancy dress costumes are required in the outside world the game plan changes. I dread events where there is a requirement to dress as a character or representing a theme and will generally avoid them. Attempting to kit out one’s child for such occasions is even worse.

With annoying regularity my young children would inform me, sometimes the night before, that they needed to attend school dressed as a book character; an evacuee; a poor child from the Victorian era; a teacher. My heart would sink as I would know that all of the competitive and talented mums would have their sewing machines buzzing, the paper mache accessories painted and the authentic embellishments sorted. My children would be sent in wearing a mash up of clothing that bore no resemblance to what was intended. I have no skills when it comes to making stuff.

The first time my children were involved in a nativity play I was reliably informed by a friendly mum that a shepherds outfit could easily be run up from an old blanket and an angel costume from a white sheet. At this stage I knew no better. My little son was the only shepherd who looked as though he was wrapped in a tatty blanket over his PE kit; my little angel like the poor relation of the shiny, sparkly host around her. The next year I went into my local town and bought everything ready made.

My inability to make stuff has let my kids down on so many occasions. As parents we never really know how much this sort of thing affects our children. I was recently talking to my youngest son about one of his birthday parties from many years ago. A friend and I have sons the same age with birthdays that fall close together. When they were younger it was common to invite the majority of their classmates so we decided to share a party and run it ourselves in our village hall. I was only willing to do this as she had offered to organise the games if I did the food and clearing up. I was so happy with this arrangement. Looking after other people’s children, especially en masse, terrifies me.

When I mentioned this party to my son he did not really remember anything about it until I described the cake. My friend and I had agreed that we would each provide our sons with their own cake so that candles could be blown out by each child. I have no recollection of what my son was given. It is possible that I bought a caterpillar or train shaped cake from a supermarket; perhaps I made the simple round or square chocolate cake that he has always liked. What my son remembers about this party is that the other boy was presented with an incredible confection in the shape of Thunderbird 1. It was awesome. Handmade by his mum with authentic detailing and the envy of every child at the table including my little birthday boy. I could never have competed with that.

As my children got older they stopped attempting to take part in dress up days at school. They now ignore the requests and attend in normal uniform or mufti; it is probably less embarrassing for them than appearing in whatever outfit I have attempted to put together. They kindly tell me that the cakes I make taste fine and that is what matters. When they have wanted a shaped or themed cake it has been bought in.

I believe that the spirit of  those early, innocent and fun dress up games played at home lives on in adults. As I spend a lot of my time on walks, working out, or attending to my house and garden I tend to dress in practical and comfortable clothing such as trackies and hoodies. It can therefore be quite good fun to put on something more glamorous from time to time, adding accessories such as jewellery and putting on a little make up. It may not turn me into a beautiful princess but it does change the way I look, hopefully for the better. This dressing up gives me confidence and makes me feel better about myself. As I act the part society expects it feels good to be suitably costumed.

This tidy and well presented version of me is not someone I could maintain all the time. I have neither the patience nor the motivation to attain such a look on a regular basis. Part of the appeal of dressing up is that I become someone else for a short period; the novelty is part of the fun. I do sometimes look at those friends who always seem to be so beautifully presented and feel that I should make more of an effort. I guess it cannot really be that important to me or I would do it.

Thunderbird 1