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Saturday, 10 September 2016

Shoes & Ties - Just Shoes & Ties.

Something has made remarkable headlines this week, not just in the national newspapers but also from the BBC National News. It was about one headmaster of a school at Margate in Kent, who turned away up to seventy pupils on the first and second day of the new term, mostly due to inappropriate footwear. Parents complained. Whether there might have been a genuine case of convalescence from a serious foot injury where a softer shoe is required, nearly all of the cases were to do with the footwear not being leather or not entirely black. Students of both genders were refused admission and were sent straight home instead. Even if this meant a journey on the train to an empty house whilst the parents have already gone to work.

Matthew Tate, the new head teacher of Hartsdown Academy, who was enforcing the rules, spent his time at the school gates very much like a bouncer at the doors of a nightclub, inspecting the uniform of every pupil as he or she approached. It is quite a contrast to the days when I attended school back in the 1960's, when the headmaster remained concealed in his office, and not make an appearance to the pupils except at morning assembly, when everybody - pupils and staff alike - watched him stand at the pulpit set up on the stage a metre or so above floor level. We too had uniform in our day. Black trousers, a black blazer sporting the school badge on the left breast, a grey shirt and of course, the school tie which was striped with yellow, red and black. As with the shoes, apparently everyone wore black, but I cannot recall any incident between staff and pupil regarding footwear.

And no member of staff stood at the gates inspecting every pupil. It was far more important for them to meet in the staff room - that one location totally hidden away and fully off-limits to every student - where the day's issues, including private light chatter, home affairs and disputes were discussed over coffee. And the only reason why a pupil may knock on the headmaster's office during the day was because a teacher sent him there to receive a caning, as corporal punishment was the norm in those days. But seldom the punishment was about uniform.

And that was especially during the Summer term, those three months separating the main Summer break from the Easter holidays. It was the time when quite a number of boys turned up at the gates without a tie on a hot day, and the staff in general turned a blind eye. As one classmate often sat at his desk with not just the top button of his shirt undone, but the second one as well, he apparently took pride in exposing an area of chest during lessons. And he was by no means the only one. Even in my class, it was not unusual to see several boys tie-less during lessons, yet no staff member in general had raised any real issues, at least not as I can recall.

Except on an easy target like I was during adolescence. Perhaps lacking masculine qualities such as being good at team sports - football and rugby in particular - one morning at the boy's changing room adjoining the school gym, the P.E. master thrust his finger down my shirt and demanded, Why aren't you wearing a tie? The one question I couldn't answer.

Maybe it was one of his off-days, perhaps an early-morning dispute with his wife, or his young son misbehaving over the breakfast table, a fellow teacher rubbing him up the wrong way within the privacy of the staff room, or perhaps sheer ennui over nothing of real significance happening, along with myself being at the wrong place at the wrong time, but seeing me without a tie gave him the satisfaction of venting his frustration. From that day on, I always arrived at school wearing the uniform tie - even on a hot day - for no other reason but to keep my nose clean and avoid punishment. But as far as I am aware, over the four years I attended that school, I recall only one other similar incident, when one female staff member, perhaps also moody that day, ordering a pupil in our class to "straighten his tie" - much to the boy's protest. 

But in all, it was a very different culture in my day compared with the present situation at that academy in Kent. But back then it might have had something to do with the two-tier schooling system based on selection. The Grammar school was where every pupil fortunate enough to pass his post-primary eleven-plus exam attended, in preparation for University. Those who failed, like I did, ended up in the Secondary Modern. Although I have never been inside a Grammar school, it would not have surprised me that the dress code there would have been a lot more strict. No pupil would have dared attended improperly dressed, especially without a tie! By contrast, my school prepared us for anything vocational ranging from manual labour up to office administration jobs, maybe even office management with a bit of luck thrown in, and that could have been the reason for our more lax dress attitude.

Since past Governments developed a sense of unfairness towards the disadvantaged over selection, many Grammar schools merged with the Secondary Modern to produce the Comprehensive. In the days of self-employment, at least one customer informed me of her son's Comprehensive school, when after the day is over, no pupil was allowed to take off his tie after leaving the gate until he reaches home! And so what appears to me as a super-strict dress code making its way into national news headlines. 

The majority of the public, nearly 70%, favoured the headmaster's actions, and deeply criticised the parents who for one reason or another, failed to dress their offspring to full standard. And according to the Media, of the seventy pupils sent home, 69 of them were to do with inadequate footwear, the one remaining, she left her blazer at the school at the end of the last term and therefore turned up on her first day without one. She was sent home with the others.

I'm not against the school uniform, if there is truth that the dress code is the equaliser, and also lifting up morality in the classroom, as well as achieving better exam results. But had I been that headmaster, I would have allowed the pupil into the school premises, but also have sent the pupil home at the end of the day with a letter to his parents explaining what the uniform consists, and give the parents up to a week's grace to amend any issues. It is during this grace period that the student still continues with his attendance.

Lately, the weather around here has been hot and muggy, with high humidity in the air. A few days earlier I took a train to Reading, a large town about eleven miles away. During that short trip I saw quite a number of office staff commuting and taking their lunch breaks. Very few went about wearing ties or even jackets. I couldn't help even noticing several office commuters wearing a shirt with both upper buttons undone. I also remember the continuous daily watching of foreign news correspondents delivering their reports wearing their shirts without a tie. And at present it is becoming the same with home reporters too. Then I saw a number of school boys and girls on their way home in full uniform, including blazer and tie. And I couldn't resist feeling that British society has become very unfair, in addition to our growing cultural hypocrisy. Even uniformed Police officers nowadays are seen tie-less, and Police uniform has always been very distinct. It is beginning to look as if the compulsory wearing of the tie is restricted to school pupils only.

I know, I know, I have an issue with ties! I have always seen it as a status symbol with a whiff of hypocrisy. But where school uniform is concerned, this is only a sticking-plaster to fix a much deeper wound. Is leniency of school dress code really the cause of moral decline in the classroom, of so much has been reported? Or is it the decline of belief in God and the veracity of Scripture the real cause of moral decline? I ask this question because the headmaster involved with this issue, Matthew Tate, professes to be a true Christian believer. So, did his action at the school gates brought these parents and their wayward offspring to faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour? O did it create hostility. Furthermore, did his actions bring glory to God in Heaven?

The only sure and more lasting fix in restoring classroom morality is a spiritual revival, which means most in the school, if not all, experiencing a rebirth through faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour. And that applies to both staff and pupils alike. Turning inadequately-dressed pupils away may bring only a temporal solution, but it still leaves the heart unregenerated, the sinful nature within each and every heart not dealt with, and brings no glory to God. His present actions might well have raised his respect and popularity among the majority of men, but not to the hosts in Heaven.

Matthew Tate claims to be a committed Christian believer. Therefore he should take a page out of the Bible and act and relate the same way his Lord Jesus Christ would have acted. And the Lord's way would be always welcoming and to give life to all who calls upon him.


  1. Dear Frank,
    I favor your proposed solution to the uniform dilemma, rather than the harsh actions of the headmaster. While we need to comply with authority and honor the Lord in our dress, thank God that the only garment that really matters is whether we are clothed in His perfect righteousness.
    Thanks for the great post and God bless,

  2. I agree with you that the problems in the school run much deeper than the student wearing an unapproved item of clothing, and rather than solving the problem, will probably irritate it. Unfortunately, many in positions of authority are more concerned with making a show of doing something, than with fixing the problems. No real thought is given to the actual consequences of such decisions.