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Teacher dress code – advice from a deputy head

Ben Connor on dress codes for teachers, and why wearing trainers to work isn’t a hill worth dying on…

Ben Connor
by Ben Connor
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PrimaryEnglish

Welcome to the profession, ECT!

Teaching is simultaneously the most difficult and most rewarding job you can do. What you’ll face over the next two years will challenge you to your limits – and that includes the behaviour of your colleagues.  

But there is one thing we need to discuss first, something which may not have made it into your day-one briefing: the staff dress code policy.  

You thought that once you had left school, you’d no longer be pulled up by the headteacher for the way you’re dressed. Ha! Think again. As a teacher, you are expected to: 

  • be able to put up displays and take them down again; 
  • teach in conditions ranging from arctic (when the heating is broken and the windows are open for ventilation) to tropical (when it’s 40 degrees and the DfE still won’t close schools); 
  • demonstrate forward rolls; 
  • chase after irate children who could give Steve McQueen a run for his money. 

The list goes on. And by the way, all this needs to be done while wearing sensible shoes that cover your toes, an outfit that’s not too tight but not too loose (health and safety!), and don’t forget the clothes shouldn’t look out of place in a book on Victorian etiquette.  

If you happen to be a male teacher, think bank manager and you can’t go far wrong. This applies in all weather conditions.

Sexist rules?

Sure, female staff can wear lighter clothes in the summer, but no-one genuinely believes tailored shorts on adult men is going to catch on. Sorry.  

I know you’ve heard there are some schools where you can ‘get away with it’, or ‘let the side down’ as some teachers might have it, but don’t get your hopes up.

Maybe your new school has jazzy, logo-emblazoned tracksuits for PE, or your headteacher is a new-age renegade who lets the children call you by your first name and allows anything, as long as it’s designer.

But there are also schools where reading the staff uniform policy will make you wonder whether lion taming might be an easier vocation – especially since you’d get the chair and the whip for free.  

Pupil uniform

Joking aside, there are of course some good reasons for a reasonable dress code policy. While you might have to suffer through the whole gamut of temperatures, most headteachers have a sensible attitude to extreme weather.

And as always, everything we do is ‘for the kids’.  

For some pupils, you might be the only professional person with whom they interact, the only positive role model they can look to and see themselves in the future.

It’s no wonder that, along with ‘Youtuber’ and ‘influencer’, the job of ‘teacher’ is a common aspiration for our students.

Not only are you their educator, but (hopefully) you’re someone the children will look up to. Dressing professionally is part of that.

Police officers, judges and doctors all have a uniform as part of their profession, so arguably, though we don’t have a uniform per se, teachers also need to look the part. 

Not only that but in practical terms, telling your feistiest Year 6 to take off their knock-off branded hoody so they ‘meet school policy’, when you’re wearing the same outfit, isn’t a good look.

Some might disagree, but pupil uniform is important, so we should make sure the way we dress reflects that.  

Dress code advice

My advice: 

  1. Check your policy now.  Don’t spend money on clothes that will get you a one-way ticket to the head’s office. It’s simply not worth it.  
  2. Buy clothes that are purely for work. You will get whiteboard ink on them. You will potentially get bodily fluids on them (not your own). Buy a small number of suitable outfits and make them last. 
  3. Buy a thermal vest for the winter.  
  4. Also buy a fan for your room. Some classrooms may have aircon, but yours likely won’t. You are new, after all. 

Ben Connor is a primary deputy headteacher at a school in Bury, Greater Manchester. He has been teaching for 13 years in various schools and currently leads on curriculum and teaching and learning. Follow Ben on Twitter @bbcTeaching

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