But I can't teach in a suit and tie

23rd December 2010 at 00:00
The joy of joining a school committee to discuss school dress code

If there's one thing we like in Wales (even more than singing and rugby) it is a committee. And a lengthy committee meeting in particular. In teaching we are just as bad. Since I started, I have been part of many of them: committees writing job descriptions, committees drawing up policies on assessment, committees to write exemplar material etc, etc.

Recently I was coerced into joining a committee to discuss the school's dress code (soon to be known by its members as the Fashion Police or the Gok Club).

The nature of the brief sounded somewhat more exciting than some of the meetings I had sat through in the past, and as it was to be held in the home economics area (with the promise of tea and cakes) I went along. It turned out to be me and a dozen female staff. I didn't quite know what to expect or what my input should be, so decided it was probably best to keep my head down in case it got bitten off.

The first meeting was as entertaining as I had expected given the emotive nature of the subject matter. All the discussion tended towards the female dress code. Men, it seemed, had no options other than suit, shirt and tie (or not). We moved on from skirt length to ways to avoid revealing too much cleavage.

They were divided here, and eventually, presumably by a process of lateral thinking, turned their attention to tattoos: to cover or not to cover, that was the question. Then came the revelations as to who had tattoos and where.

When we reached the demonstrations of how to wear leggings to best effect and the discussion on which types of legs they most suited, the meeting was feeling more like the Style Council by the minute.

When the subject of make-up was raised, I was clearly out of my depth. I asked to be excused, but my request was denied.

I didn't dare to offer an opinion on female dress other than that women seemed to be given far more leeway than men as to what was acceptable. I also felt that the more guidelines there were, the more grey areas there would be and that would lead to many more contentious rulings.

All I knew about the way I dressed was that I taught at my best when I was comfortable, and that in the summer I found it hard to teach 30 teenagers in a confined, double-glazed space. As a music teacher, I require pupils to perform with energy in many activities and need to be energetic (and cool) myself. This is difficult in that working environment.

We are role models for our pupils and it is right that we as a profession should look presentable. Smart, even. But it is the interpretation of the word "smart" that I question. Isn't the suit and tie too restrictive for male teachers in a 21st-century classroom? Are a cheap suit and stained tie preferable to a smart polo shirt and chinos? Which of these would our students see as belonging to the better, smarter, role model?

Geraint Davies is head of arts faculty, Llantarnam School, Cwmbran.

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