The argument for a staff uniform…or not

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Across the country senior leaders are spending hours writing staff dress codes, deciding how best to tell a member of staff we can all see their thong and why sandals breach health and safety rules.

Having started a conversation on Twitter about it, it is an issue with teachers as well. 

What should/shouldn’t teachers and school staff be wearing to school? Does it matter?

I’m going to present some of the arguments given about clothing so far…

  1. Teachers should look professional

Let’s not confuse looking professional with being professional. All teachers should act in a professional manner but do you need to be dressed professionally for that to happen?

What does ‘looking professional’ mean? Always a suit?

A surgeon is a professional. Whilst completing surgery they wear what is appropriate for that situation. Would you insist a 9 hour surgery be done in a suit because it’s ‘professional’? Can we be professional but also appropriate for context?

Do teachers have a ‘hang up’ about trying to be on par with other professionals and voice this through ‘professional’ dress codes? 

2. Teachers should wear business clothes

Why? We’re not a business are we? Most school staff do not carry out the same duties as a business person or work in the same sort of environment. An office/meeting environment is not the same as a classroom/hall/playground.

Why refer to business when contexts are different?

Teachers in different contexts have said how inappropriate it would be to wear a suit.

 

Some schools are banning cardigans…

 
3. We need to be role models for the children

How I behave, speak and teach is the role model. Not what I wear. 

Do I stop being a role model on non-uniform days? When students see me out of school? On trips?

4. We should trust teachers to be smart.

It’s not an issue of trust. We all have different clothing tastes and definitions of what smart means.  Without any sort of guidance or policy it becomes a personal issue where one member of staff thinks another isn’t smart. Without a clear policy to back it up, isn’t it  just a difference of opinion? I once heard a leader say they don’t ‘like’ 3/4 length trousers. It was almost their mission to challenge everyone who wore them. There was no policy to say this.

5. We’re all adults. We know what we should wear.

Going by the number of incidences recalled by colleagues. Clearly not. I’ve also experienced long term ‘disagreements’ between staff and SLT on piercings and tattoos.

6. We waste hours of time on policies and enforcing/arguing about them

An NQT told me that she spent time discussing this with other NQTs. SLTs and Governors sit in meetings discussing. Another member of staff says they  spent a whole meeting discussion and voting on a dress code. Leaders spend time thinking how best to raise the issue of exposed cleavage or visible thong.

Isn’t this a huge waste of time? Shouldnt we be focussing on teaching, learning and children?

7. Leggings should be banned

   
    
   

They’re all wearing leggings, which some schools ban. Are their outfits acceptable or not? Why?

8. A primary teacher spends time on the floor, with messy play, etc a suit isn’t practical

Primary colleagues (male and female) have said that suits for full time teachers are impractical. They spend more time on their knees and elbows than their secondary colleagues. Does it really matter if a male wears a tie or not, if it’s impractical? Colleagues tell me that tights aren’t suitable as they get torn and uncomfortable. 

Is there a primary/secondary divide?

9. Teachers should be smart for parents’ sake

Again what is the definition of smart? Do parents really care as long as you know their child and how they’re getting on?

One colleague suggested not having a policy, trusting teachers and only addressing clothing if parents make comments. This is a dangerous non-policy. Allowing parents to initiate issues with teacher clothing gives them a power that is inappropriate. If the clothing is inappropriate it should be dealt with well before the member of staff sees a parent.

Realistically, how often do we see parents, especially in secondary? PE depts. change from their everyday teaching clothes into suits at parents evenings. By definition are we accepting that suits are not always appropriate but clothing should be flexible? We could say “staff should wear a suit, within reason, when meeting a parent” but that would mean it would be easier for some to always wear a suit.

10. If we expect students to wear X, then so should we

This is a straw man when referring to uniform. If you suggest we should not wear tight trousers because the students can’t we then would need to follow exactly the same rules for clothing as with students. You can’t cherry pick the one aspect of student uniform you do want to copy and not the rest. Teachers would be wearing ties, blazers, black shoes etc

11. No Bums, Boobs, Belly

Some schools use this as a baseline. Clear enough, isn’t it?

  

I’ve been trying to play devils advocate on this. I have my own experience and bias which influences my thoughts, as we all do.

I’m beginning to think a staff uniform would resolve many issues. PE departments often have their own uniform but also others on Twitter have mentioned they have a uniform. It would save me loads of money on buying work clothes, I could claim back on tax for cleaning and would get dressed much quicker in the morning. Could you imagine launching this with staff in a staff meeting?

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5 thoughts on “The argument for a staff uniform…or not

  1. Overalls?

    I would actually appreciate a practical uniform for ease.

    However, I’m reminded of my brilliant teachers in the 60s and 70s. I remember female teachers who variously wore such things as: sexy boots and short skirts, long floral dresses and sandals, trousers, etc. I also recall male teachers who wore those incredibly short shorts of the late 70s. Others wore suits. None of this had any impact on the quality of their teaching, nor my respect or lack of it.

  2. My stance on uniform came about by reflecting on ‘mindset’, how we get into the various roles in life we play: job, parent, team player, supporter etc. It occurred to me that we often do so by dressing the part. Clothes form part of the mental and physical preparation to do something, to play some role or to undertake a responsibility. A uniform also acts as an identifier or a way of signalling intention, spot the policeman or woman in the crowd, the nurse or the other supporters of your chosen team. This helps other either to know how they are expected to behave when in the presence of a ‘uniform’ or it can act as a marshaling point drawing people together.

    Putting on a uniform says something about your intention, the responsibilities you are accepting and the ‘task’ you are about to undertake. As a teacher I had my uniforms, more than one because I had whole school responsibilities as well as those of a teacher of a practical subject. I changed according to my role and it helps get you in the right mindset for the tasks you are about to undertake.

    It is my experience that when explained in this way people are more likely to accept, and support, a uniform. Deciding on what that uniform is never easy but if you can start by exploring or asking: 1) what are the task requirements (safety, comfort etc) 2) What image do I want to portray and how do I want to be perceived 3) what are the ‘traditionally’ accepted forms of dress and how do they apply to my task/role.

    You will always get people who want to challenge what they have to do and this is more often than not because they have no understanding of the reasons. If you doubt this observe how students will shorten a skirt, play with the way a tie is worn, let a shirt hang out and any of the many other ways they “express” themselves or challenge a uniform. You will also find that the very same students will happily wear a shirt to show support for a team or a style of dress (uniform) to match in with a peer group!

  3. Personally I think we are professionals (even if we don’t work for a business), so it is appropriate to dress like a professional. Professional doesn’t necessarily mean suit and tie – I’ve worked for large blue chip companies where smart casual dress was the norm., so I guess it’s up to schools to decide what looking “professional” means for their staff, as long as the guidelines are clear and applied fairly.

    On the other hand, at my school I wear a suit in the classroom, a tracksuit on days where I’m coaching sport, and a pair of jeans if I’m doing a boarding duty. I think my students related to me in much the same whatever I’m wearing, and I don’t think I act any differently (i.e. I’m just as grumpy in trackies as I am in a shirt and tie). So perhaps that undermines my previous point somewhat.

    I would *hate* to have a staff uniform though. I’d feel like I’d joined a cult…

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