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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Many pupils already have part time jobs and will understand the need to present themselves differently depending on their environment.
- Pupils learn better when they feel positive and focused. This sort of policy breeds resentment.
- 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.