At the start of term 50 students at Heaton Manor school in Newcastle were put into isolation and issued with detentions for wearing “the wrong uniform”. The school has insisted that a certain type of trousers be worn, saying students should not wear “tight fitting trousers or leggings”.
This is not an isolated case, it has similarities to a movement in the US against sexist dress codes in schools (where there are usually no uniforms) and colleges.
Those movements have been highlighting dress codes that ban short skirts or shorts, “spaghetti strap tops” or tight trousers.
At South Orange Middle School in New Jersey a group of girls started a campaign against a code which bans “attire that exposes undergarments or anatomy”. #Iammorethanadistraction was started by the students after they were told that their clothing was a distraction and affecting the “learning environment”.
As an ex-teacher I have heard many a manager witter on about the “learning environment”; often they mean maintaining their personal dictatorial micro-management rather than anything beneficial for children or learning.
Putting students in isolation, detention or publicly humiliating them is not about creating a good “learning environment”.
At Oakleaf High School in Florida a student who violated the dress code by wearing a too short skirt was forced to spend the rest of the school day wearing a large, yellow t-shirt and jogging bottoms with the lettering “dress code violator”, reminiscent of prison clothing. Her “selfie” of the punishment clothes went viral.
At many UK schools students who turn up with incorrect uniform — often because they have bought their trousers from a cheaper retailer — are isolated or sent home until their parents buy new uniform. This not only excludes the student unnecessarily from education but also places an extra financial burden upon their parents.
The argument on uniform says it levelling the playing ground for poorer children. This case, and others, is nothing to do with that. The two main themes here are basic sexism and obsessive top-down control by school managements.
It is basic sexism to ban “tight trousers”, “skimpy tops” or “short skirts”. It tells young girls that their bodies are a distraction, shameful and should be covered up. It also suggests that women and girl’s attire is to blame for men’s behaviour.
Students in America are taking action. One group of students wore “offending” clothes to school holding “are my pants lowering your test scores?” posters. Another poster started in one school and quickly spread to others through the internet.
Schools should not be a place where problems in society are reinforced and even taught. They should be a place where they are challenged.