Anna* has recently finished her PGCE at the Institute of Education in London. During this period, she became acquainted with both suburban and inner-city schools.
During one of her placements at an inner-city secondary she was appalled at the pupils' uniform standards, because she had high expectations.
"I couldn't believe that the school was not prioritising uniform standards. One boy was wearing his tie around his head," she says.
School uniform is something seldom liked by pupils, but insisted on by many schools. It has a number of benefits that teachers and most education professionals recognise. Most of us believe that school uniform has positive outcomes. According to a Government survey examining public attitudes towards school uniform, 68 per cent thought that it could help improve school discipline. But in many cases - especially in inner-city schools - uniform standards are not rigorously enforced due to more pressing problems at the school.
Although it is important for a teacher to develop individual teaching and disciplinary methods, it is for the governing body of a school to decide whether school uniform standards and other rules relating to appearance should be enforced, and how.
"Uniform standards are down to individual schools," says Giles Mason, spokesperson for the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). "It is important to respect the school's ethos and its ideology."
In its guide to schools on uniform, the DCSF states that in the case of a breach of the school's rules on appearance or uniform, a headteacher or a person authorised by the headteacher may ask a pupil to go home briefly to remedy it.
Where a pupil is not adhering to school uniform policy, the guide states, the school should be considerate and discreetly try to establish why not. Exclusion is generally not an appropriate response, unless the breach of the school's uniform policy is part of a pattern of defiant behaviour.
The right intervention in this situation will depend on a range of factors, says the DCSF. Although it is important to be aware of general policies and the policy of the school, it is crucial to consider the context in which the behaviour has been displayed.
When making the decision to send a pupil home to remedy a breach of school uniform policy, a number of factors should be taken into consideration: the child's age and personal disposition, how easily and quickly the breach can be remedied, and the availability of the parent. In all cases, parents must be notified and absences recorded.
But rather than reacting to infringements as they occur, it's better to take a proactive stance. It is useful to establish clear guidelines, says Paul Dix, lead trainer and managing director at Pivotal Education, a training consultancy. "Take time to explain to your pupils what you expect of them throughout the term," he says. "It is important to pick your battle. Decide on one or two areas of uniform standards that you wish to tackle and pursue them consistently."
By targeting one area and conquering it by the end of the term, you are establishing yourself as a strong and consistent teacher, he adds. "What you don't want to be doing is spending most of your time reprimanding pupils and losing valuable form time." In this way, you are also establishing an atmosphere in which it is easier to tackle other disturbances.
However well you may enforce school policy within your classroom, good communication with other members of staff is fundamental. "Under no circumstances should you launch into a battle unsupported," he warns. "If only a few teachers rigorously enforce uniform standards, the pupils will not respect the rules. It has to be generally put into effect." Therefore, it is advisable to communicate your concerns to other members of staff to see where they stand on the matter.
Anna has learnt that there are simple and effective ways of dealing with uniform infringements. "One way to create a disciplined atmosphere is to line pupils up before form time and ask them to adjust their uniforms according to school policy," she says. "After a while, pupils become accustomed to this routine and begin to show up looking smart. This will most likely have a positive effect on learning."
* Not her real name
Next week: Informal sixth formers
. Choose your battles. Find one or two areas to focus on and pursue them consistently.
. Make sure you explain to pupils exactly what you expect of them.
. Confer with other members of staff about uniform policy.
. Focus on everything - this is a battle you are bound to lose.
. Spend all your time reprimanding pupils, thereby losing valuable form time.