berwickshire High School rector Robert Kelly created waves last year when he warned girls at the school to stop dressing “provocatively”; now Scottish Borders Council has updated its school dress code, the director of education Glenn Rodger, admitting that it is “a complex and difficult issue”.
When a number of Berwickshire High school girls and their parents took exception to Mr Kelly’s choice of words, Mr Rodger said the school had dealt with a “real situation” after issues were raised by staff and pupils in relation to the school dress code among female pupils.
With the council’s school dress code policy nearly ten years old it was decided to review it and this week the education executive approved the changes made following extensive consultation with pupils, parents and staff. The new code is based on acceptability, safety, practicality, cost, inclusion and religious and cultural clothing.
The updated policy accepts that head teachers need a degree of flexibility as fashions change but the general guideline should be that clothing is unacceptable if it could disrupt the normal operation of the school, cause damage or injury.
One of the changes made to the school dress code policy is that it should “apply to all those who attend or work in the school and not only to the pupils”.
Ninteen pupils and 22 parents made up the majority of the 50 people who replied to a survey sent out as part of the consultation process and there were some interesting responses.
“Guidelines on clothes which are too revealing may not be explicit enough. Suggest that school clothing should not reveal cleavage or underwear or cause embarrassment to other members of the school community”; “Denim should be included in the never acceptable list” - neither are included in the policy.
“Shell suits should be included in the never acceptable list on grounds of safety,” was another comment, and this style of clothing has now been included in the list of “unacceptable” clothing.
Hooded sweatshirts were considered a safety hazard in practical classes, despite some schools having them as part of their uniform, and the traditional school tie has its critics on grounds of safety.
When it came to what was practical there was a vote in favour of Ugg boots from pupils, a suggestion that pupils should be free to choose coats and shoes when they are out of school and both pupils and staff should avoid wearing branded PE kit.
Disciplining breaches of the school dress code, however, proved to be the trickiest area to deal with.
In the report to councillors this week it said: “Everyone welcomed the positive approach to encouraging pupils and parents to comply with a school’s uniform policy, but there were very mixed views on whether disciplinary sanctions should be more or less strict.
“Some said that the policy was too vague whilst others highlighted the need to take individual circumstances into account when applying any disciplinary sanctions.”
The updated school dress code states that “a distinction should be made between clothes which do not conform with the school dress code and those which are unacceptable for wear in school under any circumstances”.