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Foucault and the proposed Code of Conduct for Teachers

December 31st, 2008 by Graham Attwell

Last week I wrote an article about the controversial General Teaching Council of England proposed code of Conduct for teachers. Commentators had protested at what they saw as intrusion into the personal lives of teachers. Furthermore, there was a concern as to who was saying what was and what was not acceptable behaviour and how such a code might be used to suppress ideas seen by authorities as undesirable.

Recent events in London show the dangers. As reported in the Guardian newspaper a  Special Needs teachers, Adrian Swain, was dismissed a week before Christmas from St Paul’s Way, a comprehensive in Tower Hamlets, east London for refusing to stop wearing clothes which failed the school’s new dress code.

What were the offending clothes? Adrian Swain, who teaches Physical Education, came to work wearing track suit bottoms and trainers.

There is widespread suspicion that the real reason for sacking Adrian, is because he is secretary of the local teachers union, the National Union of Teachers.

The school justification for the enforcement of a dress code is that teachers should not wear anything that the students are not allowed to. And, for non UK readers of this blog, the UK persists in allowing schools to force students to wear school uniforms, even for very young children. When my stepdaughter was 7, I was summonsed to a meeting the her headteacher, who told me that she would no longer be allowed into school if she wore Doctor Martins shoes. The reason for the ban, said the head, was because wearing such shoes was hindering her learning!

As Foucault said prison is not unique. It is positioned within the disciplined society, the society of generalized surveillance in which we live. “What is so astonishing,” Foucault asked, “about the fact that our prisons resemble our factories, schools, military bases, and hospitals-all of which in turn resemble prisons?”

Commenting on the Swain case, Brian Lightman, former president of the Association of School and College Leaders, said many schools had dress codes for their teachers because staff were role models to their pupils. This begs the question of what sort of roles are being modelled, The sacking of Adrian Swain has no connection to his abilities as a teacher. It is all to do with reinforcing uniformity and maintaining the role of schools as an instrument of control. The proposed Code of Conduct for Teachers is designed for the same purposes. It should be stopped.

3 Responses to “Foucault and the proposed Code of Conduct for Teachers”

  1. Ray Tolley says:

    One of the expectations of a teacher is that he/she IS a professional. Schools that have a strict uniform code are only reflecting a part of a much more thorough code of conduct for the whole of school life. Any teacher should understand that he/she is first and foremost a professional, and may be required to teach or supervise any class or group, attend any staff training session or attend to a visiting parent/govenor/dignitary at a moment’s notice.

    The teacher in question should therefore consider himself firstly as an upholder of school policy. However, if that policy has been badly communicated or not properly supported by senior staff there may be some cause for an errosion of standards. If the teacher in question was in the habit of turning up late and not able to attend to his normal responsibilities before changing into his PE kit, I would question his professionality. However, from the information to hand, we do not know if the teacher had previously recieved informal/formal/written warnings. From my previous experience of supporting staff in such cases, I would doubt that this is a ‘first instance’ – otherwise the school would be on seriously dodgy ground.

    But, on Dress Code in general, I fear that some schools do their pupils a disservice by not establishing a code that everyone can recognise and obey. How can a school claim that it is preparing young people for the Business World or the World of Work if they have not learnt to be comfortable in an appropriate business uniform? When my students went into Work Experience situations I expected them to be comfortable wearing a tie, a business suit and prepared to change into protective clothing appropriate to their working environment when they got there unless told otherwise. Conversely, I have also come across young men, having left school, who cannot tie their tie or fasten shoe-laces!

    I fear that far too often schools fail to realise that it is *their* responsibility to introduce youngsters to these concepts before they get rejected at the formal interview. And this applies equally, whether the school is to be found on the Isle of Skye, the Lleyn Peninsula or the Isle of Dogs.

  2. I suspect there is a middle ground which has something to do with appropriateness. Ray, you make a big leap from establishing a dress code that everyone can recognise and obey (with which I agree) to the imposition of a particular “business uniform” (with which I do not). I would be very happy if school taught students to conform to the dress code of the creative industries (a hugely important industry in Britain) or forestry or indeed domestic care as much as that of petty bureaucrats. We don’t all wear ties to work. For me a dress code in school serves several functions, not least trying to mitigate the impacts of a very costly fashion competition. Though heaven knows the art of subverting a school uniform has been an essential part of a teenagers tool kit since year dot. If the teacher in question’s “normal responsibilities” were teaching PE, why on earth should he wear a suit for the journey to and from school?

  3. jen hughes says:

    Well said Ray! My response was posted on another thread on the same subject somewhere else on this site – before I read yours

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