24/02/2014 14:12 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 10:12 BST

Does It Matter What Teachers Wear?

Scruffy teacher in classroomRex Features

Did you notice what your child's teacher was wearing today? Do you ever notice except on parents' night?

Sir Michael Wilshaw, an inner city head who has become the Chief Inspector of Schools, said teachers should set an example and dress in a 'professional' manner.
Asked whether inspectors should consider staff dress codes during inspections, Sir Michael said: "I think it should be one of the criteria Ofsted looks at. I think it's patronising to children for staff to dress poorly. I would expect all schools to think about the way staff dress and ensure that staff dress professionally."

So, out go socks and sandals, tweed jackets with worn elbow patches or, being a little more up to date, leggings and tunics for women teachers perhaps?

I agree with Sir Michael. As a former teacher but also a parent, I've experienced teachers' dress code from both sides. When I was teaching, I had what I called my "work uniform". These were safe clothes which I'd not have been seen dead in out of the classroom: smart trousers not too tight and skirts not too short. If you have ever worked with hundreds of teenage boys then you'll understand why - especially when climbing flights of open-tread stairs.

Shirts and tops, never see-through and never exposing a hint of cleavage. Sensible shoes, because corridors are long and carrying books up stairs is a no-no in kitten heels.

Within these limitations though, I did try to look smartly dressed.

Which is why, when I bumped into a Head of Department in the Reception Office of my son's school, I asked her in all innocence, "Oh, is this your day off?" She was wearing a beige velour track suit. It wasn't her day off. This was seemingly acceptable dress.

Similarly, when I went to speak to the Deputy Head at my daughter's primary school, I got out of my scruffy jeans and smartened myself up. The teacher was wearing tatty cords, a jumper and a nose stud. I felt overdressed.


No one denies that teachers' clothes have to be appropriate. They have to be glue, glitter and chalk proof and, if they are teaching tiny ones, a lot more besides!


And what do parents think?

"Yes I do think dress code matters....and I confess when searching for a school I was completely put off by a school whose teachers were in fairly casual wear - no ties, trousers and soft tops," says Samantha. "One was full on dreads, flower power and sandals - it worried me how seriously he was going to take anything and I had visions of him saying on parent's night 'Relax man, he's only five!'"

Some schools do have a dress code. My friend Gail teaches in a secondary school where business dress is expected. That means a trouser suit, or skirts and smart tops, or a tailored dress, and possibly jackets for parents' nights.

"It shows respect for your pupils," another teacher told me. "If they have to wear a uniform, and are expected to turn up looking clean and smart, then we can hardly adopt a 'Do as I say' approach rather than a 'Do as I do one'.

I think the worst offenders are primary school teachers, who assume, "They are only children - it doesn't matter". But it does, as shown by my friend's experience.

My friend Jo is a primary school teacher. "The children always notice what I am wearing - even those in Year 1. They will often say, "Oh, that's a nice skirt, Miss."


I'm sure Sir Michael is not suggesting designer outfits should be worn, but parents who go into a school should expect to see teachers who look as if they are dressed for work, not dressed for yoga or gardening.


What do other parents think?
Would you turn down a school on the basis of teachers looking scruffy?