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.