Wearing the uniform with pride

Dr Adrian Johnson - Deputy Principal, Head of Secondary School

Dr Adrian Johnson - Deputy Principal, Head of Secondary School

I have mixed memories of wearing a uniform when I went to school in the mid-70s and early 80s. I can still recall the smell and prickliness of those Midford woollen jumpers that never seemed to soften despite the number of washes. [Or was it I lost them before that softening process had a chance to occur?!] Then came (state) high school and the ‘privilege’ of displaying your rugby league allegiance (because every boy HAD to identify with a team) by pairing your team’s socks with your desert boots. [Yes, the height of fashion, I know.] I don’t recall wearing trousers, ever, just King Gee shorts in the required colour. I also don’t remember any teacher ever asking me to adjust my appearance. But, I guess, the mere fact I was at school was seen as a bonus given the nature of the country town in which I grew up.

Having a sense of pride in one’s school uniform was something I learnt about by working, now, in six independent schools over the last 30+ years. So, I acknowledge, my background frames any conversation I have around uniforms and the manner in which they are worn. I’ve been delighted by watching 1st XVIII Teams arriving at away fixtures on Saturdays immaculately attired in their “Number 1s” to reinforce their commitment to their team and their school. And, in another setting, Monitors (that school’s equivalent of prefects) talking to younger students about the symbolism of their school’s crest on their tie – reflecting on the dreams of the schools’ founders over 450 years before.

I would have loved to have attended an independent school.

I haven’t ever heard anyone question the need to wear a uniform within the schools I have worked. And families know the wearing of a uniform – and wearing it well – is part of the requirement of attending a school, such as ours, when they enrol. We certainly don’t make a secret of our expectations on this front. The issue is more about the manner in which some of our students choose to wear their uniforms.

Is it that, increasingly, young people expect to express something within themselves at all times despite knowing the expectations around the wearing of our uniform? Is it an inbuilt need to rebel against the requirement to wear the imposed wardrobe? Is it about gender stereotypes and binary expectations about appearance? Do some parents feel the manner in which their child wears their uniform is, solely, the school’s concern? Others might think we should be worried about more important matters. It’s probably a combination of all the points outlined above and several others.

Alongside this situation, we have the all too regular negative feedback we receive from others about the appearance of our students. Just last week a parent wrote to us suggesting the manner in which some of our students’ dress reflects negatively on the College. We have been contacted by members of the public who felt our students’ appearance was poor. And, in response, we are continually asking our colleagues to correct the appearance of our students, diverting energy away from their core business, because we believe it matters.

So what’s the best way forward in dealing with this apparent disconnect with some students?

Wearing the uniform well is part of the requirement of attending RadfordIn speaking with Collegians, it is clear the overwhelming majority are grateful for their time at Radford. They know their schooling opens opportunities in all sorts of ways. Whilst recent Collegians are less likely to maintain contacts with us, after about eight years they become increasingly sentimental about their alma mater and are more likely to create a profile on the Collegians Website and attend a reunion. Symbols like the crest and the uniform and “how things were in our day” become increasingly important over time.

Things would be so much easier if we could transplant in our current students a reverence for their school like they might have in decades to come!

For a time, I was appointed to a prestigious school in Sydney to head a program for their Year 10 boys who were identified as ‘at risk’ of not progressing to Year 11. Just before a launch evening was about to commence, the Headmaster leaned over to ask me: “Which school did you attend, again, Adrian?” Suffice to say, my school wasn’t mentioned in my introduction to the parents in attendance. Things might have been different had I attended Radford College.

I have often spoken to our current students about the legacy created by our Collegians and the importance of perpetuating that legacy. The most overt links to that legacy relate to our crest and uniform. Staff at the College are committed to ongoing discussions with our students about wearing their uniform with pride. And, as explained at Assembly last week by Fiona Godfrey, this includes: skirts and trousers worn to the required length, boys’ shirts tucked-in and ties done up and, if it is long enough, hair tied back. Expectations in line with any professional workplace. Consequently, we appreciate continued support from the home front on these points.

We all have a role to play in building upon the legacy established by those who went before.

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