Developing identity

So Ronaldo has had a new hair cut, an event which made the newspapers. I have a passing moment of sympathy for a man who cannot visit the barbers without the press, then the feeling passes to be replaced by some sadness that inevitably during the coming weeks many young people will also change their hair style in the same way in order to express themselves as an individual. Doing what everyone else is doing in order to express who you are seems to me to be a poor starting place for developing character and individuality.

The question of school uniform ebbs and flows during the years. I have always been completely clear that a uniform and standards of presentation are of the utmost importance. School is a place of work and, like other workplaces, should be as enjoyable as possible whilst getting the job done we are there to do. Putting on the costume of the work place sets the mood – shirt, tie, blazer, grey trousers, black shoes – what could be more straightforward. In removing clothing as an expression of the individual we free, rather than diminish, the possibility of individuality because that is much more to do with what we are and what we do rather than how we look. The same goes for haircuts. Our rules allow only for very straightforward styles. Sometimes I am told that the style is an important part of expressing character, but I am afraid it isn’t and it will not be since the inevitable fact is that young people will express Ronaldo’s character before their own.

Removing how we look as the prime expression of our individuality is of great importance far beyond school uniform. Young people are far more conscious of how their body looks than was once the case. They are too fat or thin or their real looks do match up to the photoshopped image on an instagram account, as indeed it never could. We should not deny the fun of looking good but we must never allow ourselves to believe how we look is who we are.

Society and especially those educating the young have a great duty to free us from surface expressions of individuality by introducing conventional codes – this is one area where control actually frees rather than constrains, as it allows individual character to be so much deeper than our attempt to conform to current fashion.

About Philip Britton

Philip Britton is Headmaster of Bolton School Boys’ Division. He was brought up on Tyneside, took a first in physics at Oxford and did teacher training at Cambridge. He worked as physics teacher, Head of Physics and Deputy Head at Leeds Grammar School before moving to Bolton in 2008. In 2010 he was awarded an MBE for services to physics and is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics where he has been much involved in physics education, encouraging teachers to encourage the next generation of physicists.