GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, on how the demands for uniformity at what was once known as Edenham High have left some parents fuming
Some girls who arrived for the first day of term at Orchard Park High School in Shirley last Friday, smartly turned out in their new, “gender neutral” uniform of blazer, trousers, shirt and tie, as required on the school’s own website, were refused entry at the school gates for the terrible offence of daring to wear… their own school tie.
With the school placing great emphasis on pupils’ attendance records, and demanding at least 95 per cent attendance across the whole school year, the confusion created around the school uniforms means that some pupils have had their 100 per cent attendance record wrecked, for no fault of their own, before the school year has even started.
Parents have contacted Inside Croydon variously bemused by the haphazard handling of their children’s schooling, with others genuinely concerned about the unnecessary stress and anxiety the uniform issue is creating for their child.
Until July, Orchard Park was known as Edenham High School, famous as the place where X Factor winner Ben Haenow went to school, but notorious as one of Croydon’s poorest achieving schools. The inevitable academisation saw a new head appointed, Ciara Warnock.
After parents were led to believe by the Greenshaw academy trust that there would be no change of school name or uniform, soon after Warnock took her seat in the headteacher’s office it was announced that the school was to change its name and uniform. According to Warnock, the school has “challenges” and is “on a journey”
“The school has embarked on a journey of improvement, but faces challenges,” one piece of drivel distributed to parents earlier this year reads. “We are competing both for students with other schools in the area (in particular a number of new schools), as well as in the recruitment of additional, high calibre [sic] staff.” Hopefully including some who know about the appropriate use of hyphens.
“Giving our school a new name and uniform is an important part of that journey, and embodies the confidence we have in the school’s future.” Or indicates an absolute lack of confidence in its past.
But hey, they’ve got a catchy school motto to emblazon on everything related to the school: “Inspiring Lives, Building Futures”. Should make all the difference.
Warnock, who joined Edenham from a disciplinarian Catholic convent-style school, is likely to be a tad touchy about adverse publicity over uniform issues.
She made the wrong sort of headlines six months ago when it was announced that the school was to impose new uniform rules on girls, who were to be forced to wear skirts.
After parent outrage, threats of legal challenges, and a report on Inside Croydon, Warnock did a U-turn and dropped the skirt-only rule. But the impact of that adept piece of clusterfuckery has seeped out into the renamed school’s first week of this school year.
For some, the uniform issue has become a matter of “upset and worry”, according to the mother of one Year 9 girl at Edenham/Orchard Park, all kitted out in the school’s new colours.
The daughter, according to her mother, “did not want to get the bus today into school as she was worried about getting bullied due to the long, new pleated skirt she has to wear. Also we have previously spoken to the school due to her being forced to wear a jumper with her blazer, which is making her to hot and very ill.
“Again, she has been told she has to wear it. She is not at all happy and wants to change school.” That was after just one day of the new school term.
Not only is this obsessing with certain details of school uniform causing children some needless anxiety, the flip-flopping uniform rules have caused more confusion and upset (and no, flip-flops are not allowed under Mrs W’s hard-line regime).
Girls who turned up wearing trousers and blazer, as required under the rules, and with a tie, as indicated in material distributed by the school as part of the “trouser option” for its uniform, found themselves stopped by staff and reprimanded, and ordered to remove the offending item. Some were denied entry to school.
This at a school which claims its uniform is “gender neutral”.
The school website’s uniform section clearly showed that a tie is a mandatory piece of attire under the school’s “trouser option”, while the “skirt option” has a mandatory blouse, but no tie.
Girls arriving at the school with trousers were, understandably, upset and embarrassed. But it seems that at Orchard Park High, “gender neutral” means that girls are expected to wear something different from boys, even when wearing trousers.
“Confused?” one bemused father wrote to Inside Croydon. “So are we, but hey… they’re now an ‘Academy’ and can make their own rules up as they go along.”
The parent told us: “My wife and I have two children at what is now Orchard Park High School and strongly resent the imposition of the new uniform change which is particularly galling given that every clothing item that was purchased new in September 2016 has been confined to the recycling box at some considerable expense.
“We were provided a voucher to the value of £15 for each child, which was probably factored into the prices charged by the sole supplier of the new uniforms in any case – big deal!
“What is laughable is that all of the girls that arrived at school wearing the ‘trouser option’ with the ‘mandatory’ shirt and tie on Friday (September 8), had their ties removed by school staff for not complying with the school uniform requirements. Apparently girls should wear a ‘blouse’ without a tie.
“We haven’t heard if the school will be reimbursing parents for the cost of purchasing ties that girls cannot now wear – I am not holding my breath in anticipation.”
In a mildly interesting development this week, after the outcry from parents over the confusion at the school gates, the uniform guidance on the school website has suddenly vanished, possibly to be amended or clarified. Which is a bit late now for those youngsters affected.
Inside Croydon contacted Orchard Park’s headteacher for comment, but had received no response by the time of publication.
“I’m all for schools encouraging children to be a bit more responsible and grown up, but treating their parents like children isn’t helpful if you want to get maximum buy-in and support,” the concerned father said.
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