Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Skirt the Issue of Inappropriate Attire

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Don't Skirt the Issue of Inappropriate Attire

Article excerpt

Uniform can be a battleground as hemlines rise and tempers flare, but we must ensure pupils understand the impact of their choices

What better way to keep a lid on burgeoning sexuality than by covering school-age girls in knee-length pleated skirts and baggy jumpers? As this appears to be the thinking behind many a school uniform, you can hardly blame girls for wanting to prove that they have an attractive shape under all that maroon or navy blue. But in the never-ending battle between teachers and hemlines, "too short" seems to be getting even shorter.

At my school, girls wear polo shirts and choose between shorts or skirts. The required length is mid-thigh. With such a relaxed policy and a skirt length already guaranteed to get a nun twitching, you'd think there would be no need to push the hemline any higher. You would be wrong.

Now that the summer is ending here in Australia, I'm glad I no longer have to witness girls awkwardly gripping the edge of their skirts for fear that a gust of wind might reveal their knickers, or encounter those who have blurred the lines between school and beach and are sporting shorts that would be better suited to a morning's sunbathing.

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? It's difficult to say, but we do know that girls imitate the images of women they see around them. They do this to impress their friends and stick it to us teachers, but also to make a grab at adulthood.

Unfortunately, many of them are unprepared for the backlash. Girls who expose a lot of leg are labelled with terms such as "trashy" and "slutty". They are shown, on the one hand, that wearing revealing clothes and being sexy is empowering. They are told, on the other, that girls who do this are worthless.

Our role as teachers is to support and guide young people as they make the transition to adulthood and part of this is helping them to make informed decisions about their choice of clothing. We cannot blindly enforce school rules by flatly condemning their decisions (as hard as this may be sometimes). Our role is not to shame or embarrass them and certainly not to judge them. As the weather warms up in the northern hemisphere, here are a few tips for uniform management:

Choose the right person for the job

This is a difficult task for male teachers to take on, simply because the discussion can be awkward for both parties, although I know a few who do it really well. …

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