School proms: how to support students

The planning for prom can start 12 months earlier – and schools have a duty to provide support, argues Ceri Stokes

Students' preparations for the school prom can lead to social exclusion and wellbeing issues, warns Ceri Stokes

It may be that, as a teacher, your attention has only just turned to prom and all that goes with it. But our pupils, particularly our female students, are way ahead of us.

In fact, they have been planning this for a year. So if you are thinking about safeguarding, pastoral care and other issues around prom, you need to catch up, fast.

Here’s how the pre-prom calendar tends to run:


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School prom preparation: September

The social media group is formed, which everyone joins, so there is no possibility that someone has the same dress as you. Students join this page and post pictures of the dresses that they are thinking of getting so that the other 90 don’t buy it.

Obviously, from a safeguarding angle, no teacher is part of the group, but we hear about it from students. Some students do spend a lot on designer dresses that no one else will have, others buy from TK Maxx or borrow from siblings.

There seems to be a fine line - it is about being different, but not that different. Several years ago, a student came in a jumpsuit and looked amazing, but it took several conversations beforehand to reassure her that she could dress as she wanted to.

It is part of our job to ensure that every child feels comfortable at a school function – these conversations are crucial.

February

There is a bit of a fall-out because one student has posted a picture of four dresses and then decided over half term to get a completely different one – and someone else really liked one of the four she had saved.

This can result in some social exclusion. Sometimes, not being involved in things can feel as bad as being called names. It can feel like everyone is talking about you behind your back.

As a school, we have to balance how much we get involved at this point. You want students to learn to sort friendship issues out for themselves, especially as they can change quickly. But then, every now and again, you have to help them out.  

Listen to both sides and try to find a way to move forward.

Meanwhile, the pressure on looking perfect is dawning on a few students. The photos that are now posted are showing students in the dress and looking stunning. It seems like an endless stream of everyone taking gorgeous selfies of themselves, filtered and from a perfect angle.

As a school, we have tried to help with discussions in PSHE lessons, but ask any PSHE teacher what is the toughest part of their job and the answer will be "fitting every topic in". Body image and healthy relationships with your own body is only touched on lightly.

March

Diets are well and truly being considered, just at the point when you want students to eat well and sleep, ready for their exams.

Chicken fillets are bought (or Clear Cleavage booster pads) ready for the fittings, to make sure that students look the best they possibly can.

Some of the students are 16 and already they are thinking that they are not good enough and that they have to pad out their dress. I have even heard some considering padding their bum.

How high can the heels go? Which hair extensions should they consider, and don’t forget the fake nail and spray tans.

Again, we try to help but we only have so much time. However, we must try. 

May

Diets are in full swing, which can be all-consuming for some students. Communicating with home and having honest but supportive conversations is essential. 

June

It’s the month of the ball and everything is coming together.

The pupils talk about how it took Jennifer Lopez seven hours to get ready for a red carpet event. These celebrities are an inspiration for our students and I feel could do a little more to accept the responsibilities that come with this role.

 

So, come prom time, has it been worth all the hard work? It’s a tough one.

I do worry about how obsessed some students get, how much time it takes up – should we not just ban the prom?

But then, perhaps, it’s a valuable lesson for them. We all have big days that we want to look our best for and feel pressure to conform to. If we cancelled school balls, they would only find another event and then they may not have the support of the school and their staff.

And perhaps this is how it should be seen: as another life lesson that schools support the pupils through.

Ceri Stokes is assistant head (DSL) at Kimbolton School in Cambridgeshire. She tweets @CeriStokes

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