In his introduction to The History Boys, playwright Alan Bennett tells how he wore a suit to his school certificate exams (the equivalent of A Levels back then) and was teased for it. ‘But it didn’t seem silly to me then or now, as I thought the exam was an occasion and that I must rise to it accordingly’. Fast forward to this weekend’s FA Cup Final, and I am firmly with Ian Wright, who criticised Chelsea’s manager for not wearing a suit: ‘...a tracksuit? It’s not what it’s about, the Final’.
You might think this is pretty irrelevant to the issues of today, but it seems to me that how you present yourself speaks volumes. Uniform (whether a suit at a cup final or office, a clean shirt to Sunday lunch at the grandparents, now that we can, or a proper shirt to even an online meeting) says something. It’s a contract, a courtesy, whereby we say ‘I am respecting the occasion, and others, by sticking to some unwritten - or written - rules’, as opposed to ‘I am who I am, take me or leave me, I don’t care what you think’.
The ‘contract’ is well understood at Whitgift, I’m glad to say, most of the time, and if my colleagues have to keep ‘on it’, that’s also part of the contract - as with work, it helps if we all keep each other up to the mark. But neither I nor my colleagues make any apology: we all know how we should look, and apart from obvious and rare exceptions (hard to wear a suit with a broken leg, for example), everyone is in the same boat, no exceptions!
This point about care about how we look was brought home to me this week by the publication of Whitonomics, the latest edition of which has, yes, been beautifully and physically published. Why not just bung the content on line? Cheaper, easier ... and of course the content is here. But the act of formatting, tidying, indexing and - academic honesty! - carefully referencing with footnotes, is amongst other things a mark of respect: ‘we are presenting this work for your interest, we are making it as easy and pleasurable as possible to read, and we have taken care’, it says. Full marks to Hussain Zaidi, the Editor in Chief, and to his team, because it is great. And by the way, Hussain has his own website of political journalism, which I also thoroughly recommend.
On the inject of exams, where I started this ramble, my thanks too, finally, to all of the Upper Sixth and Fifth Forms, who have gone about recent assessments so sensibly and well, and to their teachers, and above all Heads of Department, for their thorough, professional and immensely detailed work on the infamous TAGs, work which is of course really only just beginning. Thank you all.