On to the serious issues

26th October 2012 at 01:00

Enough of this trivia. By which I mean the relentless diet of Technical Baccalaureates, fee hikes and wall-to-wall bloody apprenticeships. Let's get back to the thing that really matters in FE: what lecturers can and cannot wear to work.

Not that I'm prepared to take any responsibility for suggestions of dumbing down in this column. After all, it wasn't me who sent out that email at my workplace reminding us of the "inappropriateness" of wearing jogging bottoms or jeans.

Luckily such prohibitions don't present too much of a challenge for me personally. Since I gave up jogging in favour of swimming, I no longer own the requisite gear. It did occur to me that I might test the limits of the policy by turning up to work in my Speedos; but then a quick glance in the mirror one day at the pool persuaded me otherwise.

Jeans are not an issue either. It's 25 years since I last wore them in the classroom. But what is it with jeans? Wherever there's a dress code - bars, clubs, restaurants - the number one no-no is the wearing of jeans. Yet a pair of the ludicrously named "designer" variety can set you back hundreds and, as a fashion item, they can be as smart as anything else.

To be fair, where I work, the dress code has pretty much kept up with the 21st century. "Smart casual" is at the heart of it, with a fair degree of liberality in its interpretation. But that's not the line everywhere. I was in a secondary school recently where the men at least didn't seem to have noticed that sartorially it was no longer 1975. Why else would they feel obliged to wear those shiny old suits with ties straight from the Aunt Mildred collection? Or, rather, why else would their managers feel obliged to make them wear that stuff?

But while it may be the managers who enforce it, they're not the ones most concerned with what you wear on a daily basis. Not a bit of it. The ones who really notice, the ones who give a damn, are the students. You're with them for one, two, three hours at a time. You may have 20 of them to focus on, but they only have you.

Cast your mind back to the last class you taught. You can probably remember what at least half the students were wearing. Particularly if it was new, or different, or in any way striking. Now multiply that by 20 and you have some idea of the sheer scrutiny you are under every time you step into the classroom. They see. They notice. They pass judgement. Every little crease and tear. Every embarrassing stain. There's no hiding place, no mitigating circumstances, in the court of student opinion.

Still unconvinced? Then remember, if you can, what it was like to be on the receiving end of education. However far back you choose to go, what you'll notice is that with each image of a teacher comes an item of clothing. This one habitually wore a chalk stripe suit. That one a skirt just an inch too short for her years. Some even dared to wear the archetypal tweed jacket complete with leather elbow patches. One of my most forgetful teachers would occasionally turn up to class having failed - in the words of the old public convenience notices - to adjust his dress before leaving. Did we notice? Well, here I am still remembering and writing about it 40 or more years on.

Should you still have any doubts then just run this simple test. Try turning up for your next class dressed only in your Speedos.

Stephen Jones is a lecturer at a college in London.

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