Should Teachers Wear A Uniform?

Isn’t it time teachers adopt a uniform look? 

Teachers wear many ‘looks’ but what does a ‘typical’ teacher look like? Is it important what teachers wear and why shouldn’t there be a uniform for staff if there is one for pupils?

Some teachers are like walking cat walks and wear a different outfit as often as Meghan Markle. Assembly was never meant to be a fashion show.No big deal you might think, teachers want to look their best. But there can be no doubt there are a few fashion faux pas that can let the side down and not a great advert for the teaching profession.

Dressing down

The NAHT say “Dress codes for school staff shouldn’t be underestimated. The number of cases presented to the tribunal system is low in number but high in profile. If you don’t have a dress code, the creation of such a code can be a great opportunity to bring people together – management, staff, pupils and trade unions. It creates learning opportunities too. Get it right and you can create a highly positive framework for working collaboratively across the school; get it wrong and it could lead to expensive litigation!”

What teachers wear matters because everyone is looking. This is a front of house position that means careful choices need to be made. PE staff have it easy here. They pretty much do have their own uniform and wear what’s practical for the job they do.

But what about for other subjects? Do we need to dress up, dress down or pitch somewhere in the middle. What happens if you are ‘primary’ and teach 500 subjects?

It might depend who is watching. I once did a line dancing lesson in shirt, tie and trousers but the Ofsted guy watching me said I “wasn’t dressed appropriately for the lesson” and downgraded me. This was probably because I got him up and involved him in a ‘kick-ball-change’ manoeuvre. I had no time to change before or after so I was stumped.

Dress to impress

Teachers aren’t out to impress anyone with what they wear in a school environment unless they are going for an interview. Schools will have a dress code but what constitutes a standard of professional dress? How comfortable would a female member of staff be if the guidance said “Looking like one of the guys is important”? Gulp. This is actual advice discovered by Pat Thompson.

What we can wear can vary from place to place. Here’s a typical example:

Guidelines on Appropriate Dress

  • The dress code for all staff is expected to be formal and professional rather than casual.
  • Men are expected to wear an ironed shirt, dress trousers (not jeans or denim) and smart shoes (not ‘casual’ looking shoes, trainers or flip flops).
  • Women are expected to wear shirts, smart tops or knitwear (not short, ‘causal’ or strappy tops) and skirts, trousers or a smart dress (not leggings, jeans or denim).
  • As a guide, skirts or dresses should be no shorter than just above the knee.
  • Tops which contain heavy or repeated logos are not considered suitable professional attire.
  • Shoes or boots should be smart and not excessively high-heeled (not ‘casual’ looking shoes, trainers or flip flops).
  • All clothing should be clean and maintained appropriately with no rips, tears or excess wear.

Sounds fair enough don’t you reckon? In reality though you will see creased shirts all over the shop, knackered footwear, loud ties and trousers with PVA stripes. You will also see staff in designer numbers and kinky boots that do nothing for the school’s poverty-proofing message. Teaching is a profession that “consistently fails to dress professionally.”  and “Tuck your shirt in … do your tie up properly … top button please” is not just said to pupils.

Mixed messages

It’s a right old mixed-bag with mixed messages and it can look like a jumble sale some days. Mrs Benson always wears slippers in class and so do her children. Mr Jones thinks he is Gareth Southgate and wouldn’t be seen dead without his waistcoat.

The only consistent thing that staff abide by is wearing the school lanyard.

The problem is, how do we define ‘normal work attire’? We are told we should endeavour to not wear anything which presents a risk to health and safety. Does that include my garishly coloured and patterned shirts? The kids love ’em. The also love my ‘themed’ socks and Doc Martens. I’m sure what I wear makes a difference to them and how they feel. If I wear a suit this can be a barrier and create distance.

What we surely need is something to level things out so we can lead a simple wardrobe life just like Mrs Armitage and Mr Tunnicliffe in the PE Department. So let’s have a school uniform for staff that is comfortable and safe. Nurses have uniforms, police officers have them so why not teachers?

Apart from a lanyard, teachers have no recognisable uniform and a lot can be left to personal choice. There are also lots of adults milling about schools and so differentiating who works there and who doesn’t would also help.

Common sense

A school works as a community and uniforms can be a significant part of its identity. They are far from “pointless”. If a school works as a team then why not have everyone wearing a uniform? It’s a sign of strength, loyalty and unity. If we promote the message of equality then a uniform would speak volumes.

The BBC showed us what this might look like in the Africa’s One Minute Stories. Alex Maina Kariuki, a school principal in Kenya, insists on wearing the same school uniform as his students. See the video here.

Alex’s style of leadership has ruffled some feathers because he has gone against the norm and done something different. People don’t like mavericks.

The expectation from the outside world is that teachers should dress in a ‘business-like’ way and act as role models. Wearing a school uniform is one way of being a role model and Alex believes  that his way of doing things is good for his students. He says, “I have very basic reasons why I put on school uniform. One of them is to identify me with the students, get to their level and be reachable in case they have a need because the uniform puts people on the same bar.”

The school’s motto is ‘Use Common Sense’ and in many respects wearing a school uniform makes a lot of practical sense. Staff uniforms don’t have to mirror student attire but can be differentiated in some way. Or maybe a Zuckerberg uniform would work?

But really, staff wearing uniforms would be madness. Some teachers are young enough to be confused as students, students would pose as teachers and no one would know whether they were coming or going. What do you think?

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