Wednesday 21st March 2012
WON’T come as a surprise to anyone to hear I was often in trouble at school: being cheeky to teachers; not following instructions; turning up incorrectly dressed. Considering how often I went to see him, the headteacher was remarkably lenient… though I guess it would have been difficult to hand out detentions to one of his staff.
The long hair and scruffy ties hadn’t helped of course; nor the evening event I attended in jeans and a cardigan: to murmurs of disapproval and some laughter when introduced to the assembled new parents.
“Your idea of casual clothing won’t be the same as mine,” he reasoned, when discussing what we should ask sixth formers to wear. “Perhaps something similar to what would be expected of an office worker?”
Having grown up a bit by then, I nodded politely and agreed to have a word with the students and their tutors… but somehow forgot to do so.
I maintained – and still do – that nobody, of any age, should be judged by their appearance. Campaigning for all pupils to be able to wear whatever they wished became a mission; impossible, mind.
Arguments in favour of uniform make much more sense once your own kids reach secondary school.
“I don’t really mind,” my son would shrug. “Saves thinking about what to put on in the morning.”
Besides, teenagers often dress the same as their peers. There’s no way now that I’d want to encourage sales of cheap imports made in appalling sweat-shops.
Towards the end of my teaching career, we did Dennis Potter’s Son of Man as an end-of-term (non-uniform week) project. It was another of those occasions when I’d covered the drama hall floor in sand. The seventy-odd cast dived into a job-lot of short trousers and cotton shirts.
“Rub them in sand and age the clothes as much as you can. I want you to look like urchins in a sort of Borstal.”
They all started wearing the costume to and from school, proud of their raggle-taggle apparel. And, as with any uniform, they soon found clever ways to express their individuality.