Saturday, September 06, 2014

School Uniform

#wrongtrousers @HeatonManor, a state school in Newcastle, has attracted opprobrium for putting over fifty children into detention for wearing the "wrong trousers".

It seems that the school had issued new school uniform guidelines, specifying "tailored" trousers, which many parents had misunderstood or ignored. It appears that the school interpreted these guidelines as banning tight or drainpipe trousers, and was zealous in enforcing this interpretation. Clearly there is a question here of language and class: how many parents appreciated the teachers' notion of tailoring?

If you look at the dictionary definition of tailoring, you might imagine that it meant "made-to-measure" rather than "off-the-peg". Many decades ago when I was at school, there were a few boys with wealthy parents, who had their school uniform made to measure. The rest of us had much cheaper off-the-peg clothes, and everyone could see the difference. This of course undermined one of the alleged purposes of uniform, which is to conceal differences of wealth and social background.

What is the real purpose of school uniform? Sometimes it seems that the real purpose is to prevent children from ever wearing anything fashionable. In the early 1970s, school rules prevented boys having long hair, but very short hair was fine. Then in the mid 1970s, school rules were reinterpreted or changed to ban skinheads. Obviously fashions change faster than the schools can reissue the rules.

Another alleged purpose of school uniform in state schools is to ape private schools. Many comments on this incident have accused the school authorities of behaving like dictators: imposing controls on something that is irrelevant to education, and then imposing sanctions that interfere with education. This is a very old debate, and is certainly not unique to Heaton Manor.

Meanwhile, as @MagNews comments, no reference as to affordability! Some families try to get by with one set of clothes, and may have difficulties when these need washing, while others can afford more than one set. Families typically buy new or second-hand uniforms before the start of the school year, and it's not easy to rush out and buy more clothes because the teachers don't like the first lot.

Finally, let's look at the Heaton Manor guiding principles (retrieved 6 September 2014). These include

  • Courtesy, self-discipline and respect for others – good fellowship
  • Trust, honesty and integrity
  • Acceptance of personal responsibility
  • Understanding, care and tolerance
  • Confidence, motivation, self belief and esteem – encouraging independence 

It will be interesting to see how the school explains its interpretation of these principles in this context.


Newcastle school puts 50 pupils in detention for wearing wrong trousers (Guardian 5 September 2014)

More than 50 children put into detention for wearing the wrong trousers (Independent 5 September 2014)

and before you think this is only a UK thing ...

Strict dress code nets detentions at NY school (Salon 15 September 2014)

Jessica Valenti, How many young women can a school legally punish for dress code violations? (Guardian 17 September 2014)

Updated 17 September 2014

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