13th January 2006 at 00:00
You can see my underwear

A uniform for teachers would avert fashion faux-pas and give a boost to their authority, says Ellie Levenson

There was a science teacher at my secondary school who was wearing an extremely short jersey dress, with thick tights. Foolishly, she confided in my table of giggly, insensitive teenage girls that she had had to remember two things that morning: to pick up a video and to put her skirt on.

Unfortunately she had only remembered one of them.

I can also remember a primary teacher who came into class one day wearing a see-through blouse. For the whole day, and some weeks after - such was our childlike fascination - it was all we could talk about. We had seen our teacher's bra.

The daily headache of deciding what to wear is the same for those working in a small office, as it is for those who who belong to a large multi-national organisation.

When you are a teacher, though, you have the constant scrutiny of hundreds of pairs of eyes, checking out whether you're cool, have street cred or are just plain square.

By first break, you could be a legend in the contained world of your own school because of one fashion faux-pas.

And once you realise you may have made a mistake - perhaps the sniggers as you walk into class signal a fashion clanger - you will have to get through the rest of the day knowing that there's nothing you can do to recover the situation until the next day - unless you rush home to change.

There is however a solution to such situations - a school uniform for teachers. Not only would this solve questions of taste quicker than you can say "puffball skirt" or "corduroy trousers" - this is not an issue that applies only to women - it may also address many other concerns in education.

Poor discipline and a lack of authority in the classroom may be countered by an imposing uniform. Just think of the natural deference society has for people in uniform issuing an order. How much authority does the helmet give a police officer, the fluorescent jacket to a building site manager or the white coat to a doctor?

A uniform could also benefit younger members of staff who might otherwise be indistinguishable from older pupils.

Teachers would be able to show clearly when they are on and off duty.

During scheduled quiet time, for example, they might remove their uniform - for this reason, perhaps it could be as simple as a badge or a hat - to show they are not to be disturbed.

Just as pupils represent their school and can be punished for bad behaviour outside its grounds, teachers caught having a crafty fag behind the bike shed could be reprimanded.

A uniform would also help to distinguish teachers from other adults around the school. Intruders could be easily spotted and reported.

I'm not suggesting the introduction of gowns or bow ties, such as those favoured by the Masters at Eton, which would bring ridicule and resentment in any ordinary comprehensive.

Nor should schools impose petty rules on the lengths of teachers' skirts or stiffness of collars. But a simple means of identification for all teachers in a school would help define their role, instil authority and, hopefully, protect against forgetting to put on your skirt.

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