Look Sharp!


Do you look good on the classroom floor? Sharp? Does your wardrobe cut it? Well, it better. Who says? Sir Michael Wilshaw. He’s just had another “clamp-down”.

Do you look good on the classroom floor? Sharp? Does your wardrobe cut it? Well, it better. Who says? Sir Michael Wilshaw. He’s just had another “clamp-down”. Scruffy teachers must go. You better shape up. You better get the Look. And what’s that? The Scrubbed Corporate. He modelled it in the Daily Mail – Autograph Suit from M&S, Sensible Footwear, White Shirt and a proper, if shrill, tie. It sends out the right message – “business-like”, “professional” and “appropriate” – and fit all genders. 

It suggests gravity, authority, moral probity and is also popular with New Labour politicians, the present minister of education, any estate agent, Apprentice winners, and most of the world’s arms dealers.

So ditch “scruffy”. It is “patronising to children”.

I’m afraid I agree with much of this. Sir Michael is mostly right. I was mostly wrong – for years. Formal does rule. When I started teaching in the late 60s Informal ruled. We seemed to think it nourished creativity. We were buffoons. We were reacting to cold wars and grey worlds and our crustily formal teachers, with their gowns, tweeds, mortarboards, leather elbows and a creepy Philip Larkin look. If that’s what it took to maintain the illusion of authority, we didn’t want it. Anyway, we were counter cultural gunslingers and enemies of the military industrial complex and short back and sides. 

I’m afraid I wore jeans and T-shirts and some pretty fetching khol and long poetic hair – high maintenance, what with the elderberry conditioner. 

“You a homo then, sir?” said a thug in the back row. The English department favoured a Hippy, Boho, Marxist, Existentialist Dust Bowl Sharecropper look. Dear me. You can still see it in Totnes. It couldn’t go on. So we all got smarter, especially in the power-dressing 80s. I wore second-hand 40s suits and be-bop ties, common in Chicago Speakeasies. I thought I looked pretty damn dapper. Harold Plum in the 8th year didn’t. “Men have died in that!” he observed. “You dissin the dead!” Plum was correct. A working class boy, he didn’t want “cool”, he wanted professional. Since then I’ve been smart and sensible. Formal does make things easier.

But there’s surely something dispiriting here. These things shouldn’t matter. Fancy clothes don’t make a good teacher. My best teacher favoured the High Scruffy and Low Hygiene and would have been binned in our more modern whizzo schools. Some seem to have gone way beyond Sir Michael’s prescriptions and embraced the Higher Corporate. Their Leadership Groups gaze at us like the Übermensch in those disturbing Boss Adverts and seem to reflect the triumph of the Market over Academe. 

Maybe Scruffy’s not so bad...


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