Many moons ago, I led a revolt at my secondary school against a stricter imposition of school uniform. We were compelled to wear a tie – so I wore it as a bandana.
Our rebellion was a minor success. A little rebellion now and then is good for the soul!
This morning I heard about Matthew Tate, the headteacher of Margate’s Hartsdown Academy, who makes my former head teacher, Mr Smith, look like a wet blanket in comparison. He has sent home over 80 pupils for not conforming to the school's uniform standards.
This was met with protests from some parents, who displayed both their lack of historical knowledge and perspective by comparing his methodology to that of the Gestapo.
Police were called and the media has had a field day. Experts and analysts have been called in to give us their insightful thoughts. My favourite was the "expert" who said that compelling children to wear uniform would psychologically damage them.
The whole incident reveals a great deal about our culture. Failing schools, like failing businesses, football teams and political parties need good leadership. Hartsdown is a struggling school with poor exam results and bad discipline. Matthew Tate has a good record in his previous school and he clearly wants to provide the leadership necessary here.
Good leadership is fair and equal. Mr Tate wrote a letter to all parents in July informing them of the change of policy. They were duly warned.
Given my opening paragraph, it should not be surprising that I have an enormous amount of sympathy for those who don’t like school uniforms. Apart from the fact that they are expensive (the spending on school uniforms has risen from £452 million to £856 million in the past decade), should we not be encouraging diversity, rather than uniformity? Perhaps. But the problem is that today’s materialistic and shallow society cannot really cope with true diversity.
One reason is simply that there is not equality. I remember my children coming home from school and talking about "Tesco two stripes", referring to a cheap brand of supermarket trainers. Children who wore these, as opposed to Nike or similar, were mocked and abused. "Please don’t buy me those" – was the heartfelt plea – because the one thing a child fears most is being mocked by their peers. The fact is that if everyone is wearing the same uniform then there can be no mockery about those who are wearing something different. For that reason alone I would support school uniforms.
Another reason is that while our sociologist may pontificate about "individual creativity" and young people "expressing themselves", the truth is that it is not often "themselves" they are expressing, but the values of the manipulated media culture that they are part of. A while ago I walked past the Playhouse in Edinburgh on my way to church and was mockingly greeted by a friend standing in a queue for tickets for Motorhead. “Hey Dave, you heading to church? You Christians are all the same – so boring!”. To which I responded, "have a look at the 1,000 people in the queue, all dressed in black leather jackets and ‘Lemmy’ studs – and you think we are all alike!?" The idol of self-expression is really an illusion fostered by marketing companies and those who wish to exploit and control young minds.
And then there is the whole question of the sexualisation of young children and teenagers. Young girls wearing skin tight short skirts is not appropriate for school in any age, never mind one where internet porn and pedophilia is rife.
The most interesting part of this story is that the head teacher, Matthew Tate is described in the press as "a muscular Christian". What does this mean? I suspect this refers more to his tough discipline stance, than it does his gym workouts!
If it means the kind of Christianity that shows real love that is tough, compassionate and disciplined, then we can only cry "Amen!". Because in the confused and increasingly dysfunctional world that our children are growing up in, the last thing they need is the kind of wet blanket "go, we wish you well, peace, love and understanding, man" Christianity which has been the staple diet of many school assemblies for years. Nor do we need the "flog ‘em and hang ‘em" brigade so beloved by parents who recall the days when they were beaten within an inch of their lifes. "It never did us any harm", say those who show clear evidence of life-long harm!
What we need is someone who follows the practice and teachings of Jesus. Someone who knows that all human beings are equally valuable, not because they have been on an equality and diversity course but because they know how Christ values people and that all humans are created equal by God. Someone who doesn’t live in the fantasy Disney world of "everyone is good and no-one would willingly do anything wrong". And someone who is prepared to provide a just, fair and equal learning environment for all.
I recently went to teach at a school where a pupil stood up and swore at me, mocked me and abused me. When I asked the teacher why she let him away with it, she told me that there was nothing she could do. If she reported him to the head, he won’t be excluded because there is a no exclusion policy on the orders of the local council who don’t want their exclusion figures to go up. What struck me about that situation was how unfair it was on not only the teacher, but above all the rest of the pupils.
If I was given the choice between this school and Matthew Tate’s, I know which one I (like 90% of parents) would choose. We need less social engineering in our schools, and more Christian leadership like Matthew Tate’s. Three cheers for the Head!