TROUSER BLOG – School Uniform: the new corporal punishment ?
Every September it happens – there is a row about school uniforms with children being sent home because their skirts are too short/ trousers are too tight/ ties are too askew- and so it goes on. This year it reached a new height, with one school- Hartsdown Academy in Margate, sending pupils home with socks that were too frilly and other such minor infringements. The police were called- or did they just happen to be passing ? I am surprised that they didn’t call for a magistrate to read the Riot Act since it seem that some people still think that we are in the 18th century rather than the 21st.
It seems to me that today, some schools are vying to win the prize for who has the most draconian uniform policies, in the misguided view that somehow the stricter the uniform policy the better the discipline and the better the exam results. I can envisage that soon we will have a league table of who has the strictest uniform policy. It might even be mentioned in school brochures as a key performance indicator.
When I attended school in Scotland, all teachers at both primary and secondary had a leather two-pronged strap in their desks. Most used it with great frequency, not only on the naughty pupils (usually boys) but also to those who made mistakes in their tests. I recall that at primary school, it was the same children who lined up daily, often on more than one occasions during the day – the same naughty boys, and the same not very bright children. Did this help to control behaviour or raise academic standards? I don’t think so. Furthermore, it did become rather a ‘sport’ among the naughty boys to taunt a teacher (usually young and female) who could not ‘draw the belt’ sufficiently well enough to inflict maximum pain on the miscreant’s hands. At secondary school the belt was still in use, but not for the girls. However, as the boys got bigger and stronger, a teacher had to be careful whom he or she picked on. Those naughty little boys had become big boys and were liable to hit back at the teacher.
Fortunately, social mores began to change and in the 1970s corporal punishment was abolished because it was barbaric and ineffective. This meant that schools teachers lost their (albeit ineffective) means of control and punishment. Enter the ‘uniform’ controls. At my schools we had a uniform and some people wore it- or at least bits of it. Blazers were frequently worn because they were warm and full of pockets. Girls usually wore grey skirts but different styles- we could wear what shoes we liked. The problem our teachers had, was keeping the clever children at school to sit and pass the exams. The school leaving age was 15 and for many, a job or an apprenticeship and earning money was far more attractive to pupils and their parents, than staying at school. Harassing pupils about uniform infringements would have been counterproductive.
But now the school leaving age is soon going to rise to 18 so just how are the teachers going to control the pupils. Physical punishment is out and in the not-too-distant future, if some schools continue with their current behaviour, berating pupils about infringements to uniform dress code will be seen as harassment and psychological abuse. 18 year olds who can vote, have sex and can drink alcohol are not going to put up with all this nonsense about whether they can or cannot have frills on their socks, or if their ties have the wrong kind of knot. So school teachers are going to have to find more effective ways of ensuring good behaviour and raising academic standards.