Case study: Cumbernauld high school

3rd October 2003 at 01:00
Cumbernauld high school is a 12-18 comprehensive in the new town of the same name in central Scotland. Cumbernauld was built in the 1960s to cater for "overspill" families from Glasgow's tenement flats, which were being demolished in their thousands. When I was appointed head in 1992 ,the town had its own distinct identity but still clung to some cherished Glasgow traditions - among them antipathy towards school uniform.

I had already begun encouraging pupils to take a pride in their school, but as one of five comprehensives in the town, the challenge was to establish a clear identity for ourselves. Yes, we already had a badge and a traditional Latin motto (Virtute ac labore, for the connoisseur) from the days when it had been the only school in town, but I decided to introduce a new and more modern logo that would be a distinctive feature of the school and a key part of a new uniform. Parents and staff expressed support for a more prescriptive dress code and, from the point of view of security and equality, there was a clear rationale for uniform to become a high-profile issue.

We consulted the school board, parent-teachers association, pupils and staff and then set up a logo competition for pupils (and staff), to be judged by members of the student council - with a substantial prize for the winning entry. From an excellent response, we reached a shortlist of half a dozen; class representatives and staff voted for the best entry in a confidential ballot. This dangerously democratic exercise produced a worthy winner in the form of a "thinker" logo, the work of a sixth-year girl.

After a little tidying up of the artwork, we scanned it to create an electronic master to provide an embroidered logo for our proposed uniform, as well as for use on all our corporate paperwork.

I chose a supplier in England, whose local area representative could not have been more helpful, and from whom I learned a thing or two about children's wear that had, until then, escaped my notice in my own family life. I played an active part in the introduction of our first items - sweatshirts in black or grey and polo shirts in white - and was grateful for the support of parents and the clerical staff when it came to processing orders worth thousands of pounds. We modelled the early samples for the parents of our incoming first-year pupils, and were delighted with their response. I took the view that we should use this as a base on which to build, so in the early stages it was only the younger pupils who wore the new uniform, although its introduction enabled us to be much more prescriptive about what the older pupils should be allowed to wear. We couldn't make it compulsory, but we were aiming to reach a "critical mass" that would establish adherence to uniform as the norm, enabling us to pick up easily on those who were not conforming.

Over the next few years it was very encouraging to see the growing proportion of younger pupils - more than 75 per cent - wearing schoolwear with the new logo, although, perhaps not surprisingly, their enthusiasm for it waned as they progressed through the school. Many of them did, however, continue to look smart in their interpretation of our colours of black or grey and white. With hindsight I should perhaps have followed up the exercise with another initiative aimed specifically at senior pupils, to give them the chance to design a uniform more appropriate to their age group. However, the overall standard of all pupils' dress had by then improved significantly; it was much less of an issue than before.

But there were other challenges to confront and fresh priorities to address - a scenario surely familiar to all school managers. All it had needed was a trigger, which in our case took the form of an eye-catching logo, designed by a pupil, that would become a symbol of the school itself. In my present school, our dress code is rigorously enforced, and if my colleagues tire of the constant vigilance required to maintain full school uniform for every pupil, I point out gently that it is still much easier than starting from scratch. Been there, done that, sold the sweatshirt.

Mike Doig is now headteacher of Bearsden Academy, Glasgow, and president of the Headteachers Association of Scotland

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