Should women teachers wear trousers?

Is Ofsted’s latest desire to remove scruffy teachers exhibiting poor standards of behaviour real or just another part of the inter-nicene battle currently being fought within Whitehall? I mentioned in my last post that the revised Ofsted framework would consider issues of dress among trainees and new teachers. Interestingly, I have yet to see any evidence from Ofsted to justify this change in the inspection regime. Given that inspectors carry out more than 9,000 visits to schools each year that are regarded as inspections they probably already know what dress standards are like. Backing the need for change with evidence would have provided more credibility for the decision as well as perhaps identifying what is acceptable. Can women still wear trousers or do the fashion inspectors want a return to either dresses or jumpers and A-line skirts? Must men wear ties along with jackets? Will exceptions be made in both cases on the sports fields and in the gym, workshops, and kitchens?

Based upon views from TV documentaries, and not just of the main characters, is how teachers dress really an issue in secondary schools. So, is it the primary sector Ofsted has in mind? Does the HMCI of Schools want formal dress for those teaching five-year olds, and will it extend beyond the teachers to classroom assistants? Is the policy really about distinguishing teachers from others working with children so that they stand out in a crowded assembly hall as the formally dressed adults? Trainee teachers need to know the standards they will be expected to be judged against. What does ‘neat and tidy’ mean, and is it different in West London to say Northumberland?

I went back and reviewed the findings of a survey I conducted for ATL in 1996 that included a question about spending on clothing by trainee teachers. 80% of trainee teachers that completed the survey claimed to have had to buy suitable clothes for the school environment during their training. I observed at the time that perhaps the expenditure was necessary because the casual attire worn by many students on campus wasn’t acceptable elsewhere, presumably including in the classroom.

Personally, I have always taken a relaxed view of these issues, as I always did when discussing whether pupils should stand up when an adult enters the classroom. There are occasions when it is appropriate, and times when it isn’t. Now both fashions and times change, but whether Ofsted monitors or sets the standards is a key question? We have a profession where around half of teachers are below the age of 35, so how does that age gap between many classroom teachers and those that inspect them affect attitudes between the generations over these issues?

Is the issue of dress among trainees in the classroom really a chimera created by Ofsted for its own purposes or does the HMCI have the evidence to justify the change to the framework? How strict will inspectors be, and will it deter some creative and divergent thinkers from becoming teachers if applied too rigidly? Without the evidence we shall never know.

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