Michael Gove and the Politics of School Uniform

We will support schools to introduce traditional blazer-and-tie uniforms, prefects and house systems.1 Michael Gove, parliamentary debate, 2010

Background

Michael Gove, alumni of Robert Gordon College, Aberdeen, parades traditional values, which he claims to epitomise. He’s a Conservative cabinet minister. Unfortunately he was also a drug fiend who luckily avoided prison. Gove isn’t in favour of traditional ‘blazer-and-tie uniforms.’ He’s an opportunistic politician promoting an insidious agenda. School Uniform institutionalises conformity, which shapes social and political attitudes. At school Sixth Form level, uniforms aren’t ubiquitous but are used as a means of social control in various guises. The six schools discussed are a sample, giving a flavour of responses to the government’s hidden policy.

Discussion

Secondary schools enforce dress codes with varying levels of ferocity.2 Sixth Formers are an elite but many schools attempt to impose uniforms of one kind or another on them.

Gove’s old school, Robert Gordon College, promotes a middle-management look for their Sixth Formers:

Male students must wear a suit, a smart shirt and tie, and formal shoes. Female students must wear a two-piece suit with trousers or skirt, a top such that shoulders are covered at all times and smart shoes. Alternatively, students may wear a dress with a jacket.3

King Edward School, Handsworth, agrees with this strategy.4

Cardiff High’s ‘schizophrenia’ sub-divides the bodies of Sixth Form students into Top Half and Bottom Half.5

Top Half means there are,

.endorsed garments in order to both identify them as members of our school and also to promote a sense of identity and belonging amongst our upper school students.

Bottom Half meanwhile means,

Students are permitted wear any suitable “bottom half” garments eg trousers/jeans/skirt

Coopers Coburn, Upminster, infantilise their Sixth Former students with, “a strict policy on school uniform,” and, “During hot weather, students may be permitted by the school not to wear their blazer.”6 (my emphasis)

Another elite school, Simon Langton, Canterbury wriggles intelligently,

In the Sixth Form uniform is not required, however guidelines are published to ensure a good standard of dress in school and appropriate dress for special occasions.7 (my emphasis)

Trinity School, Carlisle, another high achieving Sixth Form, has no uniform.8

School uniform has become a political issue. Gove has turbo-charged school uniforms by signalling that schools having them are ‘better’ than those which don’t. Uniforms promote conformity and conservatism, which is part of the attraction for Gove. Britain is a socially inflexible country, which school uniforms fits into, with a hidden curriculum of social obedience.

Notes

1 Schools White Paper: 24 Nov 2010: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou Gove admitted using cocaine in 2019 see Michael Gove admits he was lucky to avoid jail over cocaine use – BBC News

2 Outraged parents reported as many as 100 students at the Royal Wootton Bassett Academy in Wiltshire were given detention on their first day back, for failing to meet the school’s new uniform procedure. School uniform rules: these are the strict policies schools have the power to enforce (inews.co.uk) October 2020

3 SCHOOL UNIFORM (gordons.school)

4 Uniform | King Edward VI Handsworth School

5 Cardiff High School – Sixth Form Dress Code[Gwisg Ysgol 6ed Dosbarth]

6 Year-12-Uniform_latest_2020.pdf (cooperscoborn.org.uk)

7 Sixth Form (thelangton.org.uk) canterbury

8 SIXTH FORM – Trinity School

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