First it was a clampdown on scruffy teachers, now Ofsted has called on its own staff to “uphold the highest standards” when it comes to their choice of clothing.
The schools watchdog has issued a missive spelling out the need for all of its employees, particularly inspectors, to dress “appropriately” when representing the organisation.
According to the memo seen by TES, inspectors could undermine their professionalism “if, for example, you are a woman wearing oversized jewellery or a man wearing an earring or earrings”.
It is understood that the directive comes right from the top of the inspectorate. Ofsted’s chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw is well known for his unflinching approach to details. Back in February 2014, he called for inspectors to place a greater emphasis on the “professional dress and conduct” of teachers in the classroom. The move came amid fears that staff would set the wrong example to pupils if they were not dressed in a way that “befitted their professional status”.
As headteacher of Mossbourne Community Academy in East London, Sir Michael was a stickler for teachers wearing “business-like” attire in class.
‘The highest standards’
The latest document says that the reason behind the dress code is that employees must “uphold the highest standards” when representing Ofsted, stating: “The way an inspector dresses will, rightly or wrongly, influence how they are judged by providers and stakeholders, and nothing should cause anyone to question Ofsted or your standards of professionalism or judgement because of your appearance.”
Charitably, the organisation makes it clear to staff that it “does not seek to determine or influence how you dress in your private life”. However, it adds: “When we are at work, and in particular when we are out on inspection, we are representing Ofsted and all that we stand for.”
Inspectors are expected to wear “formal business dress and minimal accessories and jewellery for both men and women”.
The memorandum was issued back in July to instruct the new intake of inspectors, who were drafted in following the watchdog’s purge of around 40 per cent of its inspection workforce. However, the guidelines were branded “odd” by one headteacher, who said that she was yet to come across an inspector who was dressed inappropriately.
“[Ofsted] is a very formal institution anyway, so it’s not like you would expect to see some trendy youngsters turning up to inspect your school,” Keziah Featherstone, headteacher at the Bridge Learning Campus in Bristol, said. “But, at the same time, the times are a-changing and I don’t think that adhering to an old-fashioned idea of formal business wear will break down barriers between schools and Ofsted. It’s unlikely inspectors will turn up wearing jeans and T-shirts, but you also don’t have to dress like you’re in the 1950s.”
TES understands that the watchdog’s dress code is currently under review.
But some headteachers believe that Ofsted would be better suited focusing on its main priorities, such as improving the quality of its inspections. Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI School in Suffolk, said: “While it’s good to see Ofsted paying attention to detail, many of us would like to see the same obsession with correctness being applied to their inspection judgements.
“The sheer length of the missive suggests an organisation that may have lost a sense of its priorities. I’m delighted that inspectors are going to make sure they dress in order to look as if they know what they are doing.
“But let’s hope that their actions show this too – through inspections that help schools to better know themselves and be more capable of self-improvement.”
Ofsted said that the memo was part of the organisation’s overall approach to ensure that “appropriate professional standards” were being met.
“In common with most public sector bodies, Ofsted has a dress code,” a spokesperson said. “This note was issued in July as a reminder to all staff, but particularly our new Ofsted inspectors, that the high standards of professionalism we expect includes the way we present ourselves.”
Turning to the Dark Side?
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers’ union, argues that Ofsted should take its dress code to “the logical conclusion”.
“They should have an Ofsted uniform, which would remove all of those questions and present the right image that Ofsted would like to portray,” Mr Hobby says. “The real question will be whether they choose to go for a Rebel Alliance uniform or whether they decide to opt for the Dark Side.”