Hairy time, even without the gel

25th March 2005 at 00:00

Patricia Gibbon, our headteacher, has banned hair gel in the school. Nobody is terribly sure of the reasons (a rumour about health and safety in the science labs is the most recent theory), but banned it she has.

The move has provoked outcry in the male pupil population, as the entire third to sixth year testosterone-enhanced cohort considers the sartorial implications for their tonsorial stature.

Personally, I believe that there are greater pedagogical reasons for concern in the wider educational scheme of things, not least the worrying interview that I held with Mr Norton, the father of Simone, a fifth year student who is both dyspraxic and dyslexic, as well as highly dysfunctional. In short, a triple-D student, but one with a delightful personality who achieves well beyond her potential because of sheer will-power and effort. Clearly, she will not be a future government minister (although, who knows?), but Simone is one of nature's triers and we are desperately hoping for good SQA results come August.

"That's what I wanted to complain about," explained Mr Norton. "I've just heard that her exam certificate won't indicate that she's had reading and scribe assistance at her exams. Surely that's unfair?

"If her potential employers think she's got straight As - or whatever she gets - then they'll expect her to be able to cope with things she can't cope with. And surely that's going to act against her when she actually starts a job?

"I mean, it seems absolutely ridiculous that ..."

I cut him off. "Mr Norton," I explained, "I don't think there's any need to worry. Pupils with additional support needs have always had that kind of assistance indicated by the presence of an asterisk on the final award, and as far as I'm aware that's still the case. But I'll check with the SQA and get back to you as soon as possible."

He seemed assuaged.


The hair gel issue is gaining momentum. The school office has been inundated with calls from parents demanding to know the reason behind the ban, and many have also telephoned the education authority to register complaint.

Ms Gibbon is holding her corner, however, and seems disinclined to retreat, even upon hearing that Richard Broadbent, one of the deputes, had met with enquiry from our local chemist when collecting his monthly prescription.

"So is it true that the school has banned hair gel, hair spray, extension nails, lip-gloss, after-shave and perfume?" the dispensing pharmacist had enquired, clearly worried about her monthly profit margins.

Mr Broadbent disabused her instantly, but I suspect it won't stop the gossip.


The hair gel ban issue just won't go away, and the boys are revolting, as they say. Apparently, they have been encouraged in their dissent by Frank O'Farrell, our principal teacher of social subjects, who views the whole situation as a real-life opportunity to let his students experience the strength of mass protest and "people power".

Although it hardly compared with Tiananmen Square, their protest was wholesome and convincing. They had been inflamed to action by Frank's (fallacious) story that the reason for the ban was that boys with hair gel spikes had been leaving streaky marks on the low-slung ceilings of our new-build school corridors (as well as his highlighting that the ban is male discriminatory).

Consequently, an immense cohort of senior pupils had besieged Mr Broadbent's office by 11.50am. In momentary concern for his own safety, Mr Broadbent assured them he would take their concerns to the highest authority (although he must have known that Mr Dallas, our school janitor, was still off sick) and they agreed to disperse. But it was, by all accounts, a terse moment.

For me, it was interesting that talk of discriminatory motives against the boys led to a staffroom discussion this afternoon, largely about the introduction of whiteboards to so many of our classrooms. It was Simon Young, my English and communications studies PT, who brought it up.

"I was just wondering," he pondered, "how it is that we're allowed to call them 'whiteboards'? I seem to recall being told about 10 years ago that I wasn't allowed to use the term 'blackboard' any more because of the racist overtones. We had to call them 'chalkboards' instead. Which we did.

"So how come 'whiteboards' is now acceptable? Shouldn't we be saying 'electronic display boards'? Hmm?"

I demurred from answer. Equal opportunities is such a tricky area.


As the Sword of Damocles hangs over so many schools in the authority, last night the director of education saw his (extremely attractive) car defaced and stoned after a frighteningly hostile local meeting wherein he outlined the closure plans to a vitriolic audience. They appeared to disagree with his "Outline for the Future" presentation, and word has it that he is consequently minded to delay the closures programme for an unspecified period - or at least until after the council elections.

Meanwhile, my wife's primary school has been the target of academic enquiries from some putative parents. Alas, Rockston Primary's auxiliary staff training programme had not prepared Mrs Bennett in the school office for the detailed nature of certain questions, as Gail explained to me after Coronation Street this evening.

"Honestly, Morris," she shook her head. "You'd have thought they were entering their kids for bloody Eton. First of all they wanted to know what the school's vision was. Then they asked what was our inclusion policy, followed up by a request for details of how many children were on free school meals allowance?"

"Bit of a give-away, that one," I commented.

"Mmm," Gail agreed. "And then, the final killer, was when they asked her: 'When was the last full inspection by HMIE?'

"Mrs Bennet didn't have a clue, to be honest, but she found out the answer for them. '1988, according to the Executive website,' she told them."

"So, what are they going to do?"

"What d'you think? They're off to St Ainsley's tomorrow with a cheque book in one hand and a personal loan application in the other.

"Ridiculous snobbery, isn't it?"

"Mmm," I agreed, although, given the events of this week, not without a touch of empathy.


I have had to return to Mr Norton with a metaphorical tail between my legs.

"You were correct, Mr Norton," I assured him over the telephone this morning. "Apparently, the SQA has taken legal advice and is not allowed to discriminate against candidates with additional support needs like Simone by saying they've had extra help."

"Yes, I knew that, Mr Simpson," he spoke coldly. "And I thought it was crazy the first time I heard it. And I think it's crazy now that the bleeding-heart liberals have won the day. Even if in doing so," he began to raise his voice in frustration, "they're performing a disservice to the other candidates and an even greater one to the ones with special needs!"

"Well, there's not much I can do, to be honest. I'm sure the aims are laudable and might help candidates with additional support needs in certain circumstances, but ..."

"But what? You don't actually believe that tosh, do you?"

I sighed. "To be honest, Mr Norton," I conceded, "I can't say that I do.

But the ways of our education system can seem like the Latin Mass at times: completely impenetrable and a thing of mystery.

"As far as Simone is concerned, we'll write a useful reference which will tell any potential employers a lot more than her qualifications and should ensure she gets a decent chance at life, no matter what her results say."

He seemed to appreciate my honesty and expressed his thanks with a little sob of appreciation. It was nice to be of help.

Another, happier, outcome was the issue of the hair gel ban, which has now been rescinded.

The final surrender was made in response to the fact that every senior male pupil had arrived in school this morning complete with red hair gel. When challenged by members of the senior management - some of them with less of a desire to fight than others, it has to be said - their ringleader, Tony McManaman, highlighted the fact that such a ban was a denial of their human rights and was also in completely hypocritical contravention of the school's recently supportive policy towards Red Nose Day.

On that occasion, he rightly pointed out, fulsome support had been offered for the principles of that organisation, which included the provision of red noses including face paints and - wait for it - red hair gel.

His case was also helped by the fact that Frank O'Farrell has been wearing copious quantities of hair gel since Tuesday, which was hardly a good example to be set by a curriculum manager.

Still, it shows fine management skills to recognise that "a bruised reed is better than a broken one", so to speak, and Pat Gibbon had to concede defeat.

It's just a pity that the SQA did the same thing over candidates with additional support needs.

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