Save the best for the weans;Opinion

25th June 1999 at 01:00
MY RECENT musings on the way teachers dress on in-service days provoked more feedback than anything I've written for quite some time. At least three people either e-mailed or stopped me in school to give their opinions. (Please don't mistake this for false modesty or pathos.) I now know why senior managers still dress formally even when no weans are about. They have to be ready for unheralded visits from parents, polis and heaven knows who else. Pity, then, the poor assistant head who dressed as a Brownie for charity only to be visited by a senior education department official.

More controversial was the suggestion from a couple of correspondents that teachers put on casual clothes because they view such occasions as a skive. Whether you agree with this or not probably depends on your definition of a skive. Are there any staffrooms out there where true skiving goes on? Do people lounge around looking like the undercover cops on Hill Street Blues, downing coffees and doughnuts, knitting, playing bridge or Scrabble or giving one another aromatherapy massages? I doubt it. We can't afford to in these days of assessment for all.

On the other hand, if a skive is defined as something less arduous than one's normal work, then in-service days are indeed generally a skive. Working with kids is hard. Non-teachers tell me that they could not do my job because they would lose their tempers. They'd want to beat the children up if they were insolent. Behind this is the assumption that anybody who can maintain discipline in a classroom can teach. Rearrange the following words into a well known phrase: mince, utter.

Anyone who grew up in the sixties or seventies knows of at least one psychopathic heidbanger who scared his (or her) class into witless submission while teaching them very little. Even nice, obedient weans are not easy to teach.

So here is my revised dress code for school-based in-service days. If you are a senior manager, by all means wear your suit, but, if male, put on a pair of Wallace and Gromit socks. If a parent or the polis visit they need never know unless you sit down without the cover of a desk. (I have yet to think of a female equivalent, but feel free to make (decent) suggestions.) The rest of us have to examine the content of the day. I would go for smart-but-casual for visiting or in-house speakers. For anything else, like stapling booklets or working a computer: jeans and a t-shirt. Save your best clothes for the weans.

Gregor Steele can be disagreed with by e-mail at

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