Head Teacher Update - Letter and Video 66

17th March in School

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17th March 2022

Dear parent/carer (please share this with your child)

I hope this letter finds you and your families all safe and well again. The video version of this
letter, for those who prefer to watch and listen to our updates can be found here:

https://youtu.be/8mHmgDUCGYw

Let me begin with a bold statement to answer an allegation in the media. Staff in Oban High
School have made clear to me, that they have never forced a pupil to hand over a mobile phone
or their lunch money to borrow a tie. For decades pupils have been free to choose to leave
whatever they wish in exchange for any item borrowed from the school. This ensures a greater
degree of certainty that we are able to keep lending whatever school items pupils wish to
borrow day after day.

Before this headline came out we were, at the same time, already in the process of addressing
an equally serious allegation: that of people making online, unsubstantiated allegations leading
to concerns by staff about their own emotional welfare linked to this online abuse and the
damage being done to our reputation - all arising from stories online.

Would you like to work in in a wonderful school full of talented children, dedicated staff and
benefit from a supportive community? This is the question that opens the staff recruitment
adverts, followed by a little more detail. Oban High School is a large, modern, fully
comprehensive school catering for one of the largest catchment areas in Scotland. It is set in
beautiful Argyll and Bute. It has an international reputation leading to professional exchanges
with schools in Norway. Nationally it inspires and supports teachers and schools across the
country, sharing innovative and recognised good practice through several national
organisations.

Our school has possibly the broadest curriculum in Scotland offering a choice over 90 subjects
to ensure we support the academic and vocational needs of every pupil. This all helps ensure
our positive destination figures are amongst the highest in the country; outperforming our
comparators. We also are able to report that our examination results are higher than the
national, local and comparator school figures in most areas measured. The HMIe have visited
Oban High School four times since 2019 to carry out Thematic Inspections and as a result our
school has been promoted in references and publications by the HMIe. This level of success
links back to having a school full of talented children, dedicated staff and a supportive
community. It is also linked to a positive ethos across the school community, shaped by our
high expectations, and in particular by our vision and values: values of compassion, ambition,
respect and resilience.

When we advertise for new teachers to come and build on this success, our staff share this
information in the hope we will secure the interest of really good staff. Naturally, anyone
thinking of moving to the area will do their own research and much of this will be confirmed
from online publications. Disappointingly, so too will be the media articles negatively portraying
our school. Articles, more often than not, based on rumours, exaggerated re-telling of a story
or individual views based on snippets of information often masking a fuller reality. Such is the
case with many online discussions around the subject of our school uniform. Persistent,
unsubstantiated and exaggerated claims are being repeated on social media and tarnishing
the reputation of our school and potentially harming our recruitment drives; recruitment drives
aimed at providing new, excellent teachers to help our children learn and to bring new families
into our local community. To help diminish such online rumours and to offer information of a
far more positive reality, I have worked with pupils, parents and staff to collate the following
information and develop a strategy.

There is no legislative requirement in place in Scotland which legally requires the wearing of
school uniform, school uniform policy is a matter for local authorities and individual schools to
decide upon at the local level.

The Argyll and Bute Council Education Committee recommended at its meeting of 21st August,
1997 that - ‘the adoption of a distinctive dress code chosen to enhance the ethos of the school
should be encouraged in all schools’. Given that there is substantial parental and public
approval of uniform, schools in Argyll and Bute are free to encourage the wearing of school
uniform.

Dr Rachel Shanks, a senior lecturer in the school of education at Aberdeen University, has
researched school uniform policy in Scotland. She found that, as of 2019, of the 357 publicly
funded secondary schools in Scotland, 343 (96%) require a uniform. Just 14 schools did not.
A total of 320 schools mandate the wearing of a school tie by both girls and boys. 235 schools
require a blazer to be worn, 200 ban jeans and almost 20% of secondary schools in Scotland
specify an exclusive supplier for school uniform - Oban High School does not do any of these
last three points.

There are different reasons that schools give for requiring a school uniform. These include:

  • ethos, identity, pride, sense of belonging
  • safety, security
  • reducing truancy
  • preventing competition/discrimination between pupils over expensive fashion wear
  • discipline and reduce bullying and victimisation of others
  • employability/preparing for the world of work
  • the reputation of the school/increasing the school’s profile in the community
  • convenience/financial benefits/affordability of clothing for parents/carers
  • attitude to learning/improving standards of work
  • It has a positive mental effect on pupils leading to good order and less behavioural
    issues; which in turn helps youngsters engage in their learning.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government has said: “We know that uniform can be one of
the most significant school costs for families and are committed to overcoming barriers to
accessing education. “We have already, in partnership with local authorities, delivered on our
commitment to increase the level of school clothing grant in Scotland, increasing this vital
support to at least £120 for primary school pupils and £150 for secondary school pupils in time
for the start of the new school year. “We will also bring forward guidance on school uniform
policy with a view to ending expensive insistence on exclusive suppliers, to support our aim of
reducing costs.” Oban High School has already implemented this.

In summary, Oban High ensures that our uniform is affordable within the money granted by the
Government to buy uniform; and where families still struggle, we will even buy uniform to make
sure no one is disadvantaged.

Our approach to school uniform is increasingly shaped by notions of equity. If you see, for
example, faded pair of black trousers worn in our school, don't assume it's because the uniform
policy is lax - it may be instead that the school quite deliberately allows a wide interpretation.
For example black cotton trousers rather than formal trousers; black trainers instead of black
shoes. An intransigent uniform policy should not punish pupils who live in poverty or who have
additional needs, if it is difficult for them to comply. We offer confidential support to families in
purchasing various items of school clothing, which the pupils can choose. And, we will
purchase whatever the family need so our children feel comfortable coming to school in the
same standard of dress as everyone else.

We have looked at the affordability of school uniforms, but also to what extent religious and
philosophical beliefs are taken into account in our guidance, and what is in place for pupils who
identify as non-binary or who are in the process of transitioning gender.

An analysis of our school uniform guidance regarding gender suggests that there are generally
similar rules and prescription for boys and girls. Our uniform code attempts to homogenise
dress whilst trying not to differentiate between girls and boys or by excluding those who do not
conform. Pupils with certain additional support needs concerning clothing, hyper-sensitivity,
etc. are accommodated inclusively. Not everyone wears shirts and ties; some wear softer
coloured shirts for example. The senior pupil leadership team are awarded blazers but this is
so they are easily identifiable to other pupils seeking them out for support rather than to create
a hierarchy. However, many other junior pupils wish blazers and they are not excluded from
this additional uniform item, should they wish to wear it.

Given what we have just said, you may wish to consider the following questions:

  • Do you agree with the reasons listed for schools requiring a school uniform?
  • How is the school uniform guidance implemented and how can we be more consistent
    in our application of this code?
  • How can we further encourage pupil/parent/carer engagement and adherence with the
    guidance?
  • Is the school uniform equitable and affordable and does the school offer appropriate
    support?

The key question however is: Does our uniform guidance enhance the ethos of our school?
We would like to invite our stakeholders to a short-life commission which will consider the
support and guidance given to young people, parents/carers and teachers concerning school
uniform and how this is implemented. The commission will be led by an independent Chair
from our community, Roddy McCuish, and we thank him for his services. It will be supported
with a briefing paper for all participants that summarises the principles underpinning the
uniform guidance and the implementation of the school dress code. The commission will be an
opportunity to review national legislation and local guidance and ensure pupils, parents/carers
and staff can have a better understanding of and share their views about the support and
guidance around how uniform enhances the ethos of our school. We hope that this is an
opportunity to help correct some mis-apprehensions and misleading inaccuracies on social
media about our uniform guidance.

Should you wish to share your view on whether or not our uniform guidance enhances the
ethos of our school, please send a request to receive a call. We would like to offer you an
individual time to share your views on Tuesday 22nd March, anytime between 4 pm and 8pm.
Our Office staff will forward your request to a trio of note-takers who will record your views. A
parent, pupil and staff member will act as the record keepers. Your views will be shared when
the Commission members meet on Wednesday 23rd March and will help determine their
response.

I would like to finish with a reminder of our vision and values; a vision and set of values that
shape all we endeavour to achieve in our school.

We at Oban High School believe that the school has a responsibility to ensure that everyone
achieves the best possible qualifications. We also believe that we need to nurture and develop
their social, emotional and vocational knowledge and skills to enable them to achieve their full
potential throughout their lives". Our school values are: Compassion, Ambition, Respect and
Resilience

Yours faithfully

P A Bain
Executive Head Teacher
Oban High School, Tiree High School & Tiree Primary School


School Uniform Commission

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