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.