The Hanson Academy in Bradford has sent home 248 pupils over three days for not wearing the correct school uniform. A bit harsh, but I suppose it saves teaching them. The received wisdom seems to be that to fail a Dress Code is to Fail In Life. It’s rather the opposite in my experience. How does uniformity make you think? How is it conducive to learning? The usual peccadilloes were punished – transgressive trousers, shoes, tattoes and “incorrectly positioned” ties. If you need all this caper to keep control, you’re surely sunk. Couldn’t the school have chilled a little?
Is school uniform more trouble than it’s worth? Is it even a bad thing? I used to think so. Most other countries – Finland, for example – don’t have it and seem to do much better than us. And isn’t it all a tad fascist, a mite creepy and Orwellian? My own school uniform – the complete Nigel Molesworth – was a sartorial nightmare, which rendered us both neutered and ludicrous. Shorts were instrumental to this. Perhaps we were just too sexy, and they were meant to keep “grils” away. They certainly succeeded. Mind you, the Nigella Molesworth look wasn’t that alluring. And how do shorts make you clever?
Will Research help? Oxford Brookes University concludes that “a smart uniform” makes you succeed. They were sponsored by the Schoolwear Association. The University of Missouri concludes that “uniforms do not make our schools better”. So now we know.
The case for them seems to be that they make pupils feel equal and parents feel calm. My own daughters’ school didn’t have them and breakfast was a catwalk hell, as they deliberated forever on their hideous fashion statements. And looking daft has its virtues. It probably prepares you for the absurdities of authority and affords much scope for creative subversion. We had many larks “modifying” it.
But larking about is out these days. Like so much that’s modern, Hanson Academy’s response is witless, charmless, and crass. Much like the school I taught at, where the Dress Code was even more tediously enforced. The Dress Code Police would stand at the gates like Check Point Charlies, turning the tots away for jewelry, tats, bolts, extensions, no hair, long hair, corn rows, dreadlocks, odd socks, wrong shoes, “modified” ties and “tights intentionally worn with ladders or holes”. Teachers too were compelled to look hideously well scrubbed, “groomed” and “shaved” – and “formally suited” and “showered” for parents’ evenings. To adopt that Raving Narcissist Clot look, compulsory on the dread Apprentice show.
Hanson Academy has surely got it wrong. They should surely just relax.
Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.