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Understanding, not sanctions, is most effective for policing short skirts, says teacher

Dr Rory Fox last week became, willingly or not, a benchmark. The headteacher of Ryde Academy on the Isle of Wight encountered a problem all headteachers are currently encountering: the weather is near-tropical and female students have seized the opportunity to roll up their skirts to guideline-insulting shortness.

There are various ways of dealing with this particular problem. Dr Fox opted to take more than 250 girls out of their lessons and either sent them home or put in a school hall away from their peers.

Outcry, of course, ensued. But in an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr Fox defended the action, explaining that it was a life lesson that needed to be taught, that the students got fair warning of a uniform clampdown and, lastly, that controlling uniform in this way improved behaviour.

Many heads reading this will view the methodology as a little extreme, and yet in truth there is no single right answer to policing the uniform of female students. It is both a sensitive and an awkward topic, particularly for some male teachers, to broach and one that people have extremely differing views on.

Difficult as it may be, this is a topic Ellie Ward, a secondary school teacher in Australia, tackles in the 27 June issue of TES. She reveals that as soon as the sun begins to shine at her school, the norm is “girls awkwardly gripping the edge of their skirts in fear that a gust of wind might reveal their knickers. Or those who have blurred the lines between school and beach and are sporting shorts that are more suited to a morning’s sunbathing”.

Not that she blames the girls.

“Are music videos responsible for this no-holds barred baring of flesh? Do we have St Trinian’s to thank for ‘sexing up’ school uniforms?” she writes. “It’s difficult to say, but we do know is that girls are imitating the images of women they see around them and they are doing this to impress their friends and stick it to us teachers. These girls are also making a grab at adulthood.”

After many years’ experience, she feels that the most effective factors in policing the uniforms of female students are understanding and explanation.

“Our role as teachers is to support and guide young girls as they make the transition to womanhood, and part of this is helping them make informed decisions as to their choice of clothing,” she explains. “We cannot blindly enforce school rules by condemning their choices (as hard as this may be sometimes). Our role is not to shame or embarrass them and certainly not to judge them.“

She provides a framework for this approach in the feature, which includes discussions on appropriateness and intended desired “outcomes” of clothing choices.

Does it work? She seems to suggest that, for most, it does.

But more importantly, she says this way of tackling the issue is one that doesn’t aim to “shame” students, as other methods do. It is about educating them.

“We have to remember that with each new infringement the wearer is mostly unaware of all the implications of her choice. We must do our best to help her understand them,” writes Ward.

In short, treat it as a life lesson, not a sanction.

Read the full story in the 27 June edition of TES on your tablet or phone by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up in all good newsagents.

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