What’s with the big deal about students’ uniform and presentation?

On enrolment, families agree to support and uphold our policies and expectations, including those related to student uniform and presentation.  Nevertheless, when staff enact consequences such as detentions for uniform breaches, they can receive range of responses from students and families. 

Some parents will applaud the stance taken. They are thankful for the persistence required from staff to uphold standards.  Others will question the time and energy devoted to it and what they perceive as an unnecessary focus on external behaviours.

On one hand, they are in good company. Jesus was rarely concerned with outward behaviours.  He was more concerned with people’s heart, attitude and the values underpinning their behaviours. And so are we.

A key aspect of Charlton’s mission is to develop Christian Character.  For me, three aspects of Christian character – integrity, respect for our community, and justice are at play in matters of uniform.

Integrity is a multi-faceted concept but is easily understood as acting in a way that is consistent with our words.  To not implement the published consequences for breaches of our own uniform expectations would lack integrity.  When, as staff, we drop the ball in this area, it may be due to the competing demands on our attention, or us simply needing to put more effort into being consistent.  Nevertheless, our integrity is undermined if there is not consistency between what we say and what we do.

As educators of adolescents, we fully understand that educating students from a range of backgrounds and circumstances can be difficult.  However, it can be similarly argued that not supporting the policies committed to at enrolment, also lacks integrity.

Secondly, let’s consider the aspect of respect. For most students in Year 5 and above, uniform issues arise from deliberate choices.  Students make the choice of shoes to look cool, to wear sports uniform when there is no sport etc.  These are choices, not mistakes.  In making these choices, a student is making a choice to put their own need to fit in, or to be perceived in a certain way by peers, above that of the responsibility they have to the community to uphold its standards and climate.  When we put our needs above the responsibility we have to the community, we reveal our self-centred human nature.  The choice itself is not the thing at issue.  It is a symptom of an attitude that places self above the community. This point is particularly significant for students in the Senior School.  Senior students share a greater responsibility to the community because, for good or bad, they provide role models to younger student as to the attitudes and behaviours of quality young men and women.

Finally, in terms of justice, parents will be aware of the keen sense of justice possessed by young people. 

When we hear questions from our children and students like “Why is okay for him to … when I …?”, or statements like “So and so never gets in trouble for that but …..” we are hearing an acute injustice-detection system in action. 

When students detect a lack of consistency in community life, it is more-often than not well founded.  They are pointing out a lack of justice and they have every right to do so.  We must do all we can to act diligently and consistently on uniform matters, without partiality, but while still taking individual contexts into account.  To not do so undermines justice.

On behalf of the staff, thank you for support of our standards of personal presentation.  It affirms your partnership with us and encourages us to stay the course.

Mark Ash