Schools Training

Does it matter if teachers are scruffy?

17 MAR 2014

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An Ofsted inspector has criticised teachers at a north London school for wearing clothes that are too scruffy and threaten to undermine standards.

Matthew Burton, assistant headteacher at Thornhill Community Academy in Dewsbury and Educating Yorkshire star

Does the way a teacher dresses matter? Yes, I think it does. During and after Educating Yorkshire, a couple of colleagues and I got it in the neck a little for what we chose to wear to work, but there is a line of sartorial propriety that, I would argue, we are absolutely on the right side of.

I wouldn’t for a second criticise a teacher who’s been working their backside off teaching high quality lessons, inspiring children, and helping them towards our greatest aim – turning young people into model citizens of the world – for having his tie a little loose, for sporting a somewhat jazzy sock, or for having their top button undone, but it’s absolutely essential that we practise what we preach.

It would be patronising to ask a child to put their tie on, tuck their shirt in, swap their trainers for shoes or chinos for trousers if I were flouncing around the corridors in a Juicy Couture velour leisure suit and a pair of Crocs. The expectations of a teacher’s appearance is bundled together in the wider issue of “professional standards”, and although I dig a fancy sock, a skinny tie, and on occasion, battle weary after a long day at the coal face, my tie may slip down, I will always make a conscious effort to dress professionally.

I took part in a radio debate earlier today and one caller made this brilliant comment: “It’s a good heart that’s important, not a good suit.” I’d completely agree, and if a sensible approach is adopted, I’m sure there’s a point where the two can perfectly align.

Tanika Gupta, playwright and mother of a pupil at a school criticised in Ofsted report

On one matter we can clearly agree – everyone wants smart teachers. But to reduce the conception of “smart” to their clothing and physical appearance is simply bizarre. Some of my favourite teachers when I was at school would not have passed what appears to be a new Ofsted test. Thankfully we were taught not to judge a book by its cover! It would seem odd to apply that to books but not to people.

This particular story arises from Ofsted comments on my daughter’s excellent school, Acland Burghley in Camden. Last week, I was at a parents’ evening and was deeply impressed by every teacher I met. I honestly cannot remember what they were wearing – but they were passionate and inspiring about their subjects, which is what matters.

Unfortunately, Matthew, much of your argument is redundant because Acland Burghley, like most schools in Camden, does not have a school uniform – so no teachers are going around forcing children to put a tie on! Surely it is time that we got away from neo-Victorian attitudes and militaristic models of schooling. It is worrying that Ofsted is wasting its energies and ours by focusing on the superficiality of appearances rather than what lies inside.


Read full article: The Guardian