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Force sixth formers into suits and wake up to Zombieland

PUBLISHED: 09:27 10 September 2015 | UPDATED: 14:57 24 September 2015

Sixth formers at Felixstowe Academy must not sport any facial hair - unlike Jeremy Corbyn

Sixth formers at Felixstowe Academy must not sport any facial hair - unlike Jeremy Corbyn

Archant Norfolk 2015

As a former teacher of sixth formers, I was interested to hear Felixstowe Academy’s plan to suit and boot its sixth form with a new dress code, writes Liz Nice.

Suit or smart jackets, tailored trousers. No facial hair! Yes, it really does say “no facial hair” because it is widely known that having a beard stops you from learning and makes you an all-round troublemaker – just look at Jeremy Corbyn.

“It’s a great idea because it will teach the kids to do what they’re told,” said one caller on BBC Radio Suffolk this week.

Ugh! But sadly, this is the prevailing wind in education these days. This belief that educational success is all down to “discipline” and getting everyone to behave in exactly the same way.

Well, guess what? As soon as you get out of school, the last thing universities want is a bunch of worker drones with nothing to say for themselves.

I should know. I spent seven years teaching undergraduates at a Russell Group university and got into Oxford by being cheeky and irreverent at interview. I doubt my odd dress was a hindrance. In fact, it probably helped.

We have a great tradition in this country of eccentrics.We also, sadly, have a tradition of rule keeping, queuing and kowtowing to our betters.

This may work well for law and order but it is intellectual death. So many of the students I taught were initially horrified to be asked for their own opinions, so drilled were they into thinking that there is a right and wrong answer for everything. There isn’t! Creative thought, critical thinking, being a visionary; these are the bedrocks of our top educational establishments yet our schools are turning out graduates straight-jacketed into the Mr Gradgrind-style manifestos Dickens lamented in Hard Times 161 years ago when he wrote of the intransigent headmaster who thought all that mattered in education, and life, was ‘facts’, ‘facts’, ‘facts’.

Think about it. How many great Britons do we proudly remember for their ability to take orders?

“Wasn’t X great? They always did as they were told!” are words we are never likely to hear of anyone.

Of course there is work to be done in helping sixth formers to be more serious about their own futures but for heaven’s sake don’t squash their individuality to do it.

The reasons some lack self belief are complex, societal, cultural. What they wear MAY be a symptom of that but it isn’t the cause. Felixstowe Academy’s apparent belief that getting students into suits is the first step towards becoming an outstanding school is delusional. Surely the quality of teaching is somewhat more relevant?

And where is the logic in saying a suit is good preparation for the work place? These days, suits are far from the norm. Want to work for Google or Facebook? Come in a shirt and tie because buttoned up anal retentives are just what they are looking for, right?

Since when was it a bad thing to want to stand out anyway? Let them wear purple, piercings and orange hair if they want to. Or wake up in 20 years to Zombieland.

See more from our columnists here

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