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.





Self improvement

I very much enjoy receiving feedback on my posts and welcome all of  the comments that readers have kindly taken the time to submit. Some of these come from people who do not know me and have found this site by chance. If they are also bloggers then I will try to visit their sites; I now follow several of them and enjoy considering their posts immensely. There is only so much that I can manage to read in a day but I welcome the chance to gain a perspective on their lives and on the thoughts and issues that they discuss.

Other comments come from people who know me outside of the internet. Often these are posted on my Facebook page, where I always include links to the posts that I publish. As these people know me personally, and have often done so for many years, their comments can be more of a challenge to deal with. They are not just basing their reactions on the words that I write but on the person that they know. It takes more courage to share thoughts and feelings with friends than with strangers. If things go badly then I have more to lose.

If I were not happy to receive such feedback then I should not write about personal or controversial topics. That, however, is one of the aspects of blog writing that I enjoy. I like to put down what I am thinking; I find that it helps to clarify in my own mind what are sometimes fairly woolly thoughts. It also helps me to see where I have done my own thinking and where I have simply believed what others have told me. Much of our knowledge is obtained in this way but, when I choose to disseminate an argument, I am taking it as my own. I am well aware that I have valued friends who will strongly disagree with many of my views.

What has been particularly interesting for me has been the general feedback that I have received on the methods that I appear to employ when considering a subject. I have been told that, whilst I claim to encourage reasoned debate, I do not always come across as accepting of others point of view when they disagree with me. I state that I respect the right of others to think differently to me yet display an exasperated manner and speak impatiently of their choices. It would seem that others do not see me in the way that I see myself. When I think about this honestly, I believe that they are right.

I find it easier to clarify my thoughts in writing rather than face to face as I need time to consider what I wish to say. I am not good at debates; my mind is not quick enough and I cannot recall the detail of enough factual knowledge to make it sound as if I know my subject; I do not have a good memory for detail. At school I was better at the subjects which required problems to be worked through rather than a regurgitation of memorized information. I failed miserably at languages as I just could not recall enough words. When faced with a friend who possesses a memory to rival Google I feel bumbling and foolish; I need time to consider new information and to work through my thoughts on this new information as I would a mathematical puzzle.

When I am considering a subject I will try to read around it, but even this can be fraught with difficulty. I cannot help but have preconceptions and it is so easy to read opinion pieces that agree with how I already think. When a writer, well qualified in his subject, creates a cognizant argument with well researched facts, figures and references to back up my point of view it feels so satisfying; it is as if I am being proved right despite others not agreeing with me. Much harder is to read a similar document that is equally well put together but carefully argues that I am wrong in my thinking. This makes uncomfortable reading. I am working hard to make myself seek out these difficult pieces and grant them proper consideration.

In my head I find myself thinking that those who disagree with me cannot be reading and considering the information that has encouraged me to think the way I do, but that is disingenuous and beside the point. This is not about me changing others – I have no right to attempt to do that – it is about improving myself. Effecting change in the way I think is a challenge.

If I wish to become the person that I have claimed to be then it will require effort but I truly do not wish to be closed to new thinking, neither do I wish to be accepting of flawed arguments. Living with ourselves can be difficult enough at times; by promoting myself as this open and reasonable, accepting and respectful individual I have been outed as a hypocrite. Now I need to do something about it.

Please continue to comment on the subjects that I write on. I am going to try to read more of those disagreeable but well argued opinion pieces and to give more consideration to why I have accepted a certain point of view. It will be interesting to see how my own thinking changes, if at all. I doubt that I will be able to debate any more effectively, but I hope that I will grow closer to being the person that I have claimed to be.


One step at a time