But that hasn’t always been my experience.
…. It’s 1981…a small country town in Victoria…
There was concern amongst many of the high school staff in which I worked that young people were leaving school before Year 12 who could have continued. Spirited young people, they appeared disillusioned with the school setting and often tested out the school uniform policy.
At the time, a number of progressive Melbourne high schools were addressing this issue by abolishing the compulsory school uniform for Year 12 students, to good effect.
As Year 12 Coordinator in 1981 guiding Year 11 students making decisions about courses towards the end of the year, I was aware that a number, already testing the boundaries of the uniform requirements, were likely to leave.
I canvassed potential allies among the other teachers, finding support for my plan to introduce a motion for change in the uniform regulations for Year 12 at our staff meeting. I then presented a carefully prepared case at the next staff meeting; incorporating amendments which were presented, then approved, at a subsequent staff meeting.
I began to look forward to being able to present the new policy of optional school uniform for Year 12 students to the upcoming class. It could encourage undecided students to see the last year of schooling fitting better with their view of themselves as young adults.
The school’s Principal had chaired the meetings at which I had presented the motion, a motion which had been clearly accepted by staff. I felt sure that a more progressive approach to uniform for the Year 12’s would be communicated to students and parents and proceed the following year.
A day or so later, the end of year newsletter to parents was to be published. Sitting at my desk in the staff room I was stunned to read, in the Principal’s column, ‘School uniform will continue to be compulsory for all students’. Devastated, quietly in tears and feeling defeated, I sat with my head in my hands, despairing.
It seemed that the Principal’s reading of the change was that it would not be accepted by parents and the community.
A conservative rather than progressive leader, he would not have been able to brave the impact of the waves which I had set in train or support the change in an authentic way.
He ‘drew a line’ in the sand.
I'd made waves, for a short while, to little effect. They receded before the tide had turned.
Life at the school, with Year 12 students continuing to wear the still often complained about uniform, went on.