Education Quandary

'What should primary teachers wear? I think my young staff are too casual. Am I out of touch?'
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

At first glance, this query seems banal. Surely a head should know how he wants his teachers to present themselves? But the truly wise person always knows that there are things that they don't know, and this older, male primary head recognises that he is not as up-to-speed with women's fashions as he needs to be.

And he's right. Clothes have changed. Things that, once upon a time, only a porn star would have been seen in, have now become normal high-street wear, and there are fewer workplace dress rules than ever.

Even so, children don't change, and nor do classrooms. Primary teachers need easy, washable clothes in which they can sit, kneel, bend and stretch. They need layers, as classrooms often can be overheated or freezing cold, and they need to look smart and groomed enough to present a professional face to children, colleagues and parents.

My hunch is that this head is worried either that his teachers are showing too much flesh, or that they are turning up in T-shirts and slouchy trousers when he'd prefer to see them in something smarter.

While he has the absolute right to ask his staff to dress for the job and cover up distracting cleavages and muffin-top tummies, he also needs to tread very carefully. We live in casual times and his staff would almost certainly object violently to any patriarchal decrees about what they should or should not wear. He should make his general views known, trust their professionalism, and speak tactfully with any individual who causes problems.

Readers' advice

Teachers should bear in mind that the pupils have to look at their outfit every day and for several hours per day. Therefore every teacher should be careful in choosing his or her dress. When I started my career as a teacher, I possessed six dresses . Every day I wore a different one, never the same dress on two following days. There was a mirror on a wall in the staff-room. A senior colleague advised us to look into this mirror before teaching a class. Fifty years on, I still think it very good advice.

Lydia Ritzer, Richmond

I don't believe in uniforms for children or dress codes for adults. Leave them alone and mind your own business. The prudes who complain should be told not to be so petty.

Mark Taha, London SE26

Three years ago, I took part in a day laid on for teachers by a department store. They showed us how to pick out clothes that were professional but interesting, and which suited our figures. A lot of us admitted that we hid in uniforms of black trousers or trouser suits, but the stylists encouraged us to try different things. By the end of the day, we not only looked better, but seemed to exude more positive vibrations with our bright, confident outfits. Maybe this head should find a stylist to come in and give his teachers a workshop. He would be surprised at the difference.

Mandy Hale-Seeford, Chichester

Next Week's Quandary

Dear Hilary,

Our children studied French at their last primary school, but we are moving to a new part of the country where schools give children a taste of all kinds of languages – French, Japanese, Arabic and Latin. We are keen for our children to keep up their French, but fear that they will be distracted.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce, to arrive no later than Monday 1 October, to 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or email: Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary (Fifth Edition)