What not to bare: Hot weather examines teachers' dress code

Summer the and the living is easy - but not for teachers. They, it seems, have spent the past two weeks debating appropriate wear during a heatwave on an internet chatroom.

Summer the and the living is easy - but not for teachers. They, it seems, have spent the past two weeks debating appropriate wear during a heatwave on an internet chatroom.

Should women teachers bare their midriffs in front of the pupils? And should men be allowed to don shorts and sandals? One contributor asked: "Are ladies allowed hipster trousers that allow people to see some skin?" Another admits to discomfort "when a female teacher bends over, trousers ride down and there's a lovely display of bare skin and thong".

Perhaps the suggestion of one primary school teacher that dress code should vary according to the age of the pupil is the right approach. She said: "When I taught early primary, I felt quite relaxed in my floaty gingham dress of cropped trousers. Now, teaching upper primary, I wouldn't dream of anything less than a twinset."

Men, too, are agonising over what to wear. One told the website, run by the Times Educational Supplement: "Every day I go to work in a shirt, tie and trousers. Feel hot all day long, which has a negative effect on my teaching. What do guys wear to keep themselves cool? Are three-quarter length trousers passable?"

According to another contributor, schools in New Zealand allow men to come into school in smart longish shorts and polo shirts with sandals. "It's not a problem," he added.

Officially, there are no rules governing dress code for teachers - although ministers do favour uniform for pupils. The initial response of the Department for Education and Skills to the debate was: "I don't think there's anything sensible we could say." Later, in an official response, a spokeswoman said: "It's up to the individual school. We don't issue guidelines."

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, was relaxed about the question of dress. "If New Zealand allows sandals, why shouldn't we?" he said.

"I think we should take a relaxed approach to dress - although I can concede that if they're too relaxed you could get a pupil revolt. They may say 'Why are you allowed to wear that if we've still got to come to school in uniform?'."

Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, a parents' pressure group in favour of a traditional approach to education, was more strict in his attitude. "I think schools should be treated as a business environment and that teachers should dress in a reasonably respectable fashion," he said.

"I do think it is up to the head and the individuals concerned but they should realise that it is not the summer holidays."

One teacher contributing to the website reckoned that a return to the more traditional garb of the gown might be the way forward. "If we all wore academic gowns, no one would know what we were wearing underneath," he said. "Think of the laundry that would save."

Happily, nature may have provided its own solution to the dilemma. Temperatures plummeted yesterday and lashings of rain brought an end to the heatwave.

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