I have a bit of a school uniform obsession and I don’t know why. Why does it matter what the kids wear? What makes a school shoe a school shoe?
I really would like an answer to that last question because nobody on the senior leadership team could come up with a reasonable definition.
I can start to answer the question of ‘why have school uniform’ – ethos, identity in and out of school, helps dissipate ‘brand-labelling issues, etc. I am even able to justify our insistence on wearing the uniform correctly – pride in self and school, ethos and standards… What I cannot justify is my obsession with only having black hair bands and insisting on a certain shade of grey for the skirt and trousers! And that’s just me, I haven’t yet been able to convince any of my colleagues.
However we are tightening up on uniform. For a while here (and at my previous school) I thought that the determination of students would beat the organisation of staff, but we are definitely winning and staff and the majority of the students are really pleased with how everybody looks at the moment.
Under the new regime there are two levels of misdemeanour. Firstly, students who have the correct uniform but wear it badly, i.e. those who leave their tie in the widest possible knot and three inches from their top button (if they had a top button and it was done up). The second type is students who don’t have the correct uniform – those without blazers or ties or who come in wearing trainers (because these days M&S and Clark’s have given up the fight and are selling trainer-type footwear as school shoes).
Students without the correct uniform get a letter sent home and if it’s not rectified within 24 hours they go into isolation. Students wearing their uniform badly get a 20-minute after-school detention on the same day. If they’re on the list more than once in the same day they get an hour’s detention for the next day. Persistent offenders are isolated and then excluded.
It’s going really well although we’ve had to put paid to the rumours that teachers were in competition. Students were thinking that staff were going out of their way to find fault with an item of uniform.
I think the system’s success if down firstly to its simplicity. It relies on teachers getting a list to the office by 3pm and on the first few days we actually had support staff collecting lists, but as numbers have dropped that’s not necessary. The other reason for its success is that it’s instant. Students are just told, ‘Go to the hall, your name is on the list’. They get 20 minutes there and then and if they’re down more than once we issue 1-hour detention slips before they leave the hall that night. The main downside is just how much time it’s taking up for us on the senior leadership team, but hopefully as we get down to the last obstinate few that won’t be such an issue.
Year 11 and sixth form
At the same time as this zero-tolerance for main school, we’re considering our options for the Year 11s who are sitting exams. At present they are required to wear uniform – yes, even blazer. This is causing problems because we can’t then inflict upon them the detentions that other students get for incorrect uniform. They also haven’t had the warnings and nags that the other children have. Equally this leads on to the sixth form dress code. We’ve just appointed a new Head of Sixth and I think it’s going to be down to her. We always seem to fall short with the Year 12s and 13s and usually it’s because every time we start the discussion, two of us mention a staff dress-code and then we can’t move any further forward.
The two of us who always mention staff dress-code are the two female members of the Senior Leadership Team. We’re the ones who have to talk to (usually female) staff about skimpy tops and midriffs. I wonder if it’s all worth it.
Has anyone worked in both a uniformed and non-uniformed school (primary or secondary)? Is there a palpable difference (other than the obvious one about what the children are wearing)? Or have you worked in a school where the teachers could (and did) wear what they wanted? How did the students (and parents) react?