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Schools, Hair Styles & Seclusion

An incident at school this week with my just turned 13 year old daughter, has led to a lot of discussion around rules and regulations, particularly those pertaining to appearance. How important do you think strict uniform policies are? How appropriate are the sanctions or consequences your school uses? I'd love to hear your thoughts! :D

My daughter's (dd) school has a strict uniform policy - right down to no hair accessories that aren't small and black, glasses need to be dark colours, as do coats and so on. We've always followed the rules including sensible black leather brogues and skirts touching the knee.

There are some aspects I do think are OTT; dd once got told to remove a black plain hair tie as it was "too thick", even though when she had long hair she found the smaller ones slipped out and were generally less comfortable - it wasn't like we were talking "scrunchies" from back in the day.

I think it's also fair to say there's some selective rule enforcement takes place. The skirt rule is "knee length" and when I highlighted most weren't, school indeed agreed. This rule is a grey area I was told, because girls are different shapes and sizes as long as it's not too revealing it's fine. OK, but why then don't the rules say that? Why bother to say knee length at all?

People often state reducing differences between peers is one of the reasons uniforms are important, but those rocking their knee length skirts because their parents didn't realise this "grey area", are soon labelled the "geeks" and on the whole don't mix with the "cool kids" (I've learnt so much about school social politics and lingo in the last year).  DD wears trousers to dodge the issue entirely.  Similarly some teachers will pull a child up for nail polish or said black hair tie, whilst others won't, or they will for one child but not another.

My daughter isn't really into fashion, make up or styling her hair, so it's not massively hard to tow the line; as things stand she has no time for contouring her cheekbones or perfecting the latest "up do". What she does love to do however when "school's out", is to colour her hair rainbow shades.

In the holidays we've regularly used the "Manic Panic" hair dyes, they don't contain ammonia or harsh chemicals and are pigments that coat the hair.  The standard range wash out of her dark "virgin hair" (not bleached/processed/heat treated) quite quickly.
This holiday was Halloween and as it was a 2 week break, she excitedly opted to try red, a colour she hadn't used before and to fit with her costume. 

As the holiday progressed we noticed it wasn't fading anywhere near as fast as we expected and so started more frequent washing.  The water turned bright red every time but frustratingly the stubborn red stain on her Barnet only appeared minimally different.  It lost some of it's halo like glow, but was certainly nowhere near approaching "natural hair colour".

As time marched on, my daughter became more and more anxious the
Stock Image from Manic Panic showing similar results
colour wouldn't be gone for school.  She's a conscientious, high achieving student with an exemplary behaviour record -and she takes their reward and consequence system very seriously (she so did not get that gene from me).  

As the week went on dd shifted from anxious, through really worried and eventually we hit panic stations.

I reassured her it was just hair colour, we'd wash it several times after Halloween as I'd read online washing up liquid or 'Head and Shoulders' worked -  so as soon as the costume was off, the washing began.

And boy did we wash.  Soaping and rinsing over and over (with a now near sobbing daughter), we made a huge pile of red and then pink foamy soap and I felt sure when it dried we'd be good.

It was late by the time we finished and I kid you not, we both nearly cried when we saw the result.  Her hair was now an actually rather pretty shade of bright plum,  note the bright... DD also noted it was very similar to the shade a teacher has her hair too... ....

"That's it, there's no way I'm going to school!" she announced.  "I will get a million 'behaviour points' and probably suspended".  We agreed to have one more go in the morning and rethink.

My poor daughter the next day and two more washes in, scalp red and now flaking from the scrubbing with a whole host of internet suggestions was pretty distraught (and yes I of course felt terrible).   Despite what  'YouTube' testimonials tell you, I can now say with confidence that that bicarb, vitamin c, 'Head & Shoulders', washing up liquid and honey don't work, even if you mix them all together.

I suggested I called school and explain what had happened, so they knew it was an accident we were working hard to rectify and not a deliberate breaking of the rules.

"Mum, they won't care", she said bluntly.

I kept the faith.

The receptionist, bless her, empathised and said she would speak to a member of staff, reassuring me she would call us back to discuss before any sanctions were enforced. I said if it wasn't acceptable, I'd collect her and go to the hairdressers to see if they could strip the colour and it was agreed they'd ring if needed.

We heard nothing more until she arrived home from school and we learnt she had spent the day in "inclusion". 

It seems a rather ironic name given inclusion, when in fact what they actually mean is isolation or seclusion.

I honestly didn't even know this was a thing, clearly I should have watched "Educating Yorkshire"- but it's a room containing individual cubicles where the child is made to stay.

DD was told to get a book out of her bag and read it.   As she'd nearly finished it and is an accelerated reader anyway, she spent the day reading it again. 

4 1/2 times.

That was her day. 

No morning or lunch break outside, instead a sandwich and water was brought to her cubicle.  2 toilet breaks are granted, end of.

I can think of few situations where I personally feel isolating a child of this age is appropriate.  Restricting movement to this degree, with one book, for a whole day, would frankly have had me losing the plot.  I'm kinda in awe dd even managed it without a total meltdown.

Their own behaviour policy talks about threatening or persistently disruptive behaviour - but dd is a motivated, engaged, hard working student, who ended last year with several "reward trips" for achievement and effort.  To treat her in a manner one might deal with a prisoner who is a danger to others, frankly shocked and horrified us in equal measure.

I was left even more disturbed when I stumbled upon THIS report:
"The abuse of isolation rooms may not be legitimate and cannot be free from scrutiny in relation to the UK's adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child(1989).These so called acceptable forms of punishment can be abused if used inappropriately or with the wrong students."
I called school again, who told me it was "key to get her out of circulation", because presumably otherwise tomorrow the entire school would rock up with blue and yellow mohawks.   I spoke to someone higher up the chain of command and it was eventually agreed we would see how it looked in the morning and take it from there.

Alas another two washes made little difference and we "resumed negotiations" as planned. 

"It's time a dose of common sense was applied", mused the assistant principal when it was made clear she would not be returning for a second day of isolation, instead we'd seek professional hair help.  "I'd rather she was in school, even if that's one to one mentored learning", he replied. 

So isolation worded differently then?

Turns out the message from the receptionist that morning, never reached said teacher, and inclusion should have included more than just reading a book.  He felt as the others had seen her sanctioned, she could now return to classes. When I said I didn't feel confident in trusting this would happen, he gave me his word.

And so she went.

This time instead of isolating her in a cubicle, she was isolated outside the class, continuing to sit there when apparently forgotten right through morning break; she was too scared to leave as she would get in more trouble.

Eventually the left hand seemingly not having a clue what the right hand is doing communication system, caught up with itself and they apologised, returned her to lessons and assured her she wouldn't be isolated again.

DD found being made to sit outside the classroom worse than in the cubicle, as some "mean boys" laughed at her every time they passed.

She's frankly humiliated and pretty devastated by the whole affair, but hey the others saw her sanctioned and thus should tow the line.  I have to wonder how well these systems even really work at "controlling the masses"?

Surely those children who achieve within these systems are likely those who would achieve without it?  For those who struggle, within a short space of time there's surely a risk of "what's the point even trying"?  

As the deputy head himself pointed out, he had spotted her in isolation because it's always the "same old faces".  This to me suggests it wouldn't appear to act as a massively effective deterrent.  Sending them to the headmaster's office so he could crack them with the cane, never changed the line up there every Monday when I was at school either.

It's no longer physical abuse, but you surely have to question the potential psychological consequences?
In 2001, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, published a paper (called a General Comment) that explained and elaborated on the right to education. The General Comment 1 on the aims of education provides a very clear overview of what the right to education means in practice, including:
  • Education must be child-centred and empowering, and that this applied to the curriculum as well as the educational processes, the pedagogical methods and the environment where education takes place.
  • Education must be provided in a way that respects the inherent dignity of the child and enables the child to express his or her views in accordance with article 12 (1) and to participate in school life.
Is a uniform breach really such a serious offence?  And if so, do uniforms need to be so strictly regulated down to the colour of their hairband?  
"It's all about what they look like", the deputy head stated.


Perhaps that's why British school girls have the lowest body confidence when compared to 15 other countries

Is what we look like really the most important value we need to nurture?  

Just before half-term, my daughter was intimidated enough by an altercation with some older children who had pushed in, that she ended up leaving the lunch queue and going hungry.  I'm sure if she'd complained something would have been done, but then there's the whole culture against "grassing" isn't there? 

And then what?  Would a punishment from the "behaviour matrix" change anything?  Ultimately the point is that clearly the behaviours we are nurturing involve intimidation when not adequately supervised.

Why is everything underpinned by the belief that children really want to reek absolutely chaos, break the rules and rebel?  Montessori is based on the opposite principal, that children want to do the best they can, but can at times struggle to do so - and if that's the case find out why!  

Years of observation leaves me feeling that without a doubt the second approach results in increased empathy, co-operation and respect that cuts both ways, both between students and teachers - others agree.  I can certainly recognise now why our mainstream school children are reported to be some of the unhappiest in the world.

We discussed what my daughter could do to help her feel better about the incident, and she has decided to write a letter to the school - I'm going to share it (with her permission of course) here on my blog when complete :)

What do you think about isolation? 

Is it something your school enforces and as teachers do you see positive long-term results from such methods?  It's safe to say I'll be hitting the journals to see what I can dig up, ready for my own feedback to the school...

Perhaps if we all club together we can convince Dr Ross Greene to come and work in UK schools!


PS I don't blame Manic Panic in any way for this incident.  They state you should always check colour results and that they can last longer or shorter periods than expected.  Most posts I found on the internet were about trying to make manic colours brighter and last longer - so for anyone going for red, vampire red is certainly resilient.

PPS Did you know my book is out TODAY?