It’s important not to get too carried away with school uniform policy
I was one of many Sheffield school parents rushing round at the beginning of the week to make sure my kids had all the uniform they needed. The shelves are often increasingly bare at this time of year and I always make a mental note to sort it all out in early July when you can take your pick of sizes and styles. But I never do.
Like my child’s approach to homework, I leave it until the last minute and am just pleased to get it done to the required standard.
Uniform is something that’s on the lips of many a parent at this time of year; it’s a hot topic at the school gates as well as on social media and usually involves a good moan about new rules or an increasingly difficult policy.
In some schools, uniform is a fully-fledged battleground that parents purposefully defy on the grounds that it’s either too expensive or restricts self-expression. It’s a difficult problem to solve, but certainly not impossible.
The first thing to acknowledge is that schools do need a dress code and to help the school run effectively parents should and children should abide with it.
But the issues come when schools implement silly rules that are easily avoidable and get the backs of parents up.
I’m thinking about recent examples in Sheffield schools about the diameter of black trouser legs, the length of skirts, length of a tie, the opening of a top button, branding of trousers, what constitutes a trainer as opposed to a shoe and the colour of socks.
And that’s even before we get started on hair styles, hair dye and piercings. There has to be give and take and schools should try to be as reasonable as possible.
Insisting parents buy a specific pair of branded trousers at £18 when perfectly good versions are available in supermarkets for less than a tenner is ludicrous. Sending dozens of kids home for minor breaches of policy just to make a point is not boosting anything except the ego of the headteacher.
Generally, when you see a secondary school turn out around 3pm, you see hundreds of well-dressed, smart young people walking down the road – you’re not drawn towards white flecks on mainly black shoes or a loose top button.
Sure, if some kid turns up in red shoes without a tie, it might be time to have a word, but common sense is a factor that has been missing from uniform policy in some schools for quite a while.
And it’s not just parents with kids heading off to school this week who are fretting about what clothes to get out of the wardrobe.
Teaching staff, too, are having to deal with different rules at schools across the city for their own appearance.
Some schools have a laid-back attitude that allows adult members of staff to come in wearing jeans, canvas shoes and no tie. Other schools fall on the other side, having a strict ‘no denim’ policy that is in place on weekends, evenings and training days – not just when children are in their lessons.
Perhaps more draconian is the Sheffield academy that has a ‘no tattoos on display’ rule, something that is surely a remnant of a dress code drawn up in the 1990s. Some older school leaders stuck in the past may still look upon tattoos as something which are undesirable, but times have moved on.
Many young people have their bodies tattooed these days; it’s become so mainstream that I would be very offended if my line manager told me to ‘cover up’ and said I couldn’t teach unless I wore long sleeves or didn’t put shorts on for Sports Day.
As a parent of kids at secondary school and a teacher who works in one, uniforms are very close to my heart.
Schools operate far more coherently and effectively with a good uniform policy, but it’s important not to get too carried away and enforce rules like a ruthless dictator – no good can come of this because it just annoys parents and ends up with children in isolation for the silliest of rule breaking.
The most important thing is to have children in lessons, engaging with teaching and learning – not being sent home for having a logo in the wrong place or trousers that are too skinny.
A uniform policy riddled with rules is one most likely to fail and become unmanageable.
Give most Sheffield families the credit they deserve for sending children to school as smart as possible in increasingly difficult economic times and opt for flexibility rather than conflict.