A highly respected but – some argue – archaic institution. One with a rigid set of rules on dress, behaviour and hierarchy. Where insiders’ conduct is subject to undue scrutiny and comment from the general public – and where one slip-up could land you squarely in the tabloids.
When you think about it like that, our schools have rather a lot in common with the Royal Family. And whereas that rigidity provides a useful structure for expected behaviour – for royals and commoners alike – it can also be restrictive when it doesn’t run in tandem with modern life.
That’s why it’s been wonderful to see Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, taking the ridiculous and rigid rules that the Royals have lived by and defiantly rewriting them.
Every woman who has started her journey into motherhood comes up against people telling her what she can and can’t do. Markle is doing what we all should do: exactly what pleases her.
Typically, this attitude doesn’t come easy for women. As children, we were told to sit and be quiet while our male contemporaries charge about ‘being boys’. And as adults, women have a reluctance to appear rude or impolite, which too often is to our own detriment. But it doesn’t have to be like this.
Markle isn’t going to stand on the steps of the Lindo Wing and be snapped by photographers while she grimaces through the painful first few steps after giving birth. Good. Just because other women before her went through that charade is no reason for her to do it, too.
After all, Marie Antoinette gave birth in public with 200 people watching on – because it was customary for French queens to have onlookers to ensure that no baby-switching took place. But, strangely, no one is suggesting any of the modern royals pick up this old French tradition and insisting Markle gives birth via Facebook Live and Instagrams photos of the placenta. Tradition is tradition only until people realise there’s a better way of doing things.
So, instead, Markle is doing her own thing. From baby showers to birth locations and announcements, she is doing it her way. And you know what? If Markle can shake up a millennia-old institution like the Royal Family, then we can certainly do the same for the schools we’re in.
If you’re a teacher who is about to start a family, or indeed are already a parent, you’ll have likely come up against “this is how it’s done” at your school.
From when you start your maternity leave to your keeping-in-touch days to your return to work, there will be pressure from those around and above you to do things a certain way. And, just like Markle, you don’t have to put up with that.
When people ask “And who is going to have the baby when you come back to work?”, it is OK to answer and to point out that fathers never get asked that question. And if someone asks if you’re going to have another, you can say, “Wow, that’s a personal question” – you don't have to roll out a polite but frosty retort. Be blunter. Point out inequalities. It will probably do your blood pressure some good.
It’s too easy to fall in with quiet resentment and carry on doing things how others have done them for fear of being difficult. But the easy option isn’t always the option that will make you happy.
So pick your return-to-work date that suits you, not the school calendar. Ask for a phased return, or part-time hours, or shared leave with your partner: just because things have traditionally always been done one way doesn’t mean you have to follow suit.
After all, if one person can stand up to the stuffy Royal Family and refuse to play (croquet) ball, we can do a bit of shaking up in the staffrooms across the UK. Just ask yourself: what would Meghan do?