April 2018

The know zone

  • Bold fashion statement
    Reckoning that pupils who sported designer handbags could be less likely to succeed than their purse-free peers, one headteacher describes what led to her decision to de-accessorise in the classroom. More
  • Un-social media?
    With more and more social media platforms becoming available, and with the rise in the number of news reports on how social media is affecting children's mental health and wellbeing, we asked ASCL members to share their thoughts on this. More
  • Leaders' surgery
    Hotline advice expressed here, and in calls to us, is made in good faith to our members. Schools and colleges should always take formal HR or legal advice from their indemnified provider before acting. More
  • Empower yourself
    Val Andrew explores the theme for this year's ASCL School Business Leaders' Conference - 'Empowering Agile Leadership'. More
  • Next steps to higher learning
    Schools now have a statutory duty to allow further education (FE) colleges and other providers on to their premises to talk to their pupils. Here, Kevin Gilmartin examines the so-called 'Baker clause'. More
  • Pregnancy and maternity
    We have seen an increase in member queries on pregnancy and maternity, but before you stop reading, thinking, "This so isn't for me," says Sara Ford, please be aware that the issues being raised need to be understood by anyone managing staff. More
  • Speak up
    We must start talking more about SEND funding and stop using the complexity of this provision as a barrier for not doing so, says Julia Harnden. More
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Reckoning that pupils who sported designer handbags could be less likely to succeed than their purse-free peers, one headteacher describes what led to her decision to de-accessorise in the classroom.

Bold fashion statement

“But it is my human right.” How many times have I heard this statement when a student doesn’t want to conform to the standards that I have set for the school?

I smile inside, remembering arguments with my parents about what I could or couldn’t wear and then focus back to the matter in hand. The debate continues – “I have a right to be an individual” – and I counter that they are and can be, without accessories or their skirt rolled up.

Yes, I am referring to the female half of my school population, although only a small minority of the 750 young women in the cohort.

During a conversation while on lunch duty with a member of the leadership team, I made the bold, unsubstantiated statement that there could be a correlation between the girls who carried handbags and their weaker maths results at GCSE.

What started as a general observation developed into a serious piece of research over many weeks as I observed the behaviour of the girls who carried handbags and the girls that didn’t.

Non-verbal messages

Carrying a handbag, often an inexpensive market copy, made a real difference to the way the girls stood and the non-verbal messages they sent to their peers. The arm was raised, palm up, with the fingers pointing casually towards the body, the handbag hung over the bend in the elbow.

One knee was bent, pushing out the hip with the foot slightly forward in front of the other leg. These girls stood in a group, excluding any female without the coveted handbag; this semi-circle would be found in a prominent area of the playground.

A handbag is a very personal item, often containing possessions that are private and are not needed in school, whereas a school bag is about learning, containing a pencil case, planner and books that are of no interest to anyone other than the owner.

Handbags send messages about your status; they say ‘young woman’ not ‘schoolgirl’. There is a sense of intrigue about the handbag and the secrets it contains. How personal are the contents, and what signals are being sent?

We also ended up with situations when the female student in the classroom had to protect her bag; it could not go on the rack in a practical science or food technology lesson in case it touched another bag, was squashed or at risk of being knocked over.

That is why, a year ago, I banned handbags from my school and insisted on backpacks/rucksacks. My leadership team and the year leaders have seen a difference in the behaviour of students at break and lunchtime.

Ready to work, not shop

The girls look ready to work and not as though they are ready to shop. They behave differently; the backpack is either on their back or consigned to the floor and they sit and talk to their friends instead of attracting inappropriate attention.

I could also argue for the introduction of rucksacks from a health point of view, however, the benefits of leaving the handbag at home and coming to school ready to learn are enough for me. I have not completed a scientific study and the evidence I have is anecdotal. However, as the line goes in When Harry Met Sally, “I knew the way you know about a good melon.”

The author is a headteacher in the South East.

Want the last word?

Last Word always welcomes contributions from members. If you’d like to share your humorous observations of school life, email Permjit Mann at leader@ascl.org.uk. ASCL offers a modest honorarium.