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Blazer or polo shirt for you, sir?

LAST month we had our undressed day in school. At least, that's what our first year were saying. The rest of us, more accurately, called it a non-uniform day in aid of Children in Need.

School dress is a hot potato in Scottish education. There are areas where the traditional blazer still holds sway, places where designer polo shirts rule the roost, and a coterie of "chattering class" parents in the capital who view any attempt at a dress code as a personal affront to civil liberties.

What is clear is that school uniform can only be maintained with the full support and co-operation of the school community, in particular the parents. When we opened our school some 10 years ago, parents were clear that they wanted an affordable but smart uniform.

They continue to support us in this: virtually all of our pupils wear the uniform, the local community report back favourably on the impression they have of our students and, believe it or not, when asked, a majority of our pupils say they prefer to have a dress code.

Until recently, there was a feeling that the idea of a "non-uniform day" would lead to barbarians at the gate and a disintegration of school ethos.

However, we move on, and it was felt that such an event, in support of a major charity drive, would be a positive contribution to our ideal of caring for others.

The pupils were initially delighted, and then worried. Relieved of the automatic choice of school dress, how would they choose what to wear? What message to send to the year group? Smart but casual? Expensive designer? T-shirts advertising a favourite band? The identifiable groups, such as the Goths, who manage to tweak the official uniform to display their tribal allegiances, were on easy street and arrived in a profusion of purple and black. The rest arrived looking - well, terrific.

We had issued pointers. Variations on the lettering of a well-known design house with an "f" and a "c" in the label were discouraged, as were any logos advocating illegal activities. We needn't have bothered. Our pupils, out of uniform, confirmed what they prove every other day when in uniform: the vast majority are committed and focused young people who are a credit to us.

Uniform does not make the pupil, any more than manners maketh the man. School dress can furnish a sense of belonging and proclaim pride in an institution, but it is the pupil beneath who counts, and we are lucky to work with such a fine body of students.

Entering into the spirit of things, most of the staff wore school uniform on the day . . . but that's another story, for another time.

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