Archive for Schools

Uniform at School?

Posted in Biographical, Education with tags , , on April 9, 2021 by telescoper

I noticed a little news item this morning about school uniforms and thought I’d comment, because I think the author of the piece misses some important points.

I had to wear a uniform when I went to my secondary school, the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle upon Tyne. I got a place there under the Direct Grant system, after passing the 11+ examination. It was basically a private school but I won a scholarship and my parents didn’t have to pay anything, which was just as well as they would never have been able to afford the fees.

I should mention that when I went to the RGS, in the 1970s, it was only for boys, but it is now for boys and girls.

Before actually starting at the RGS (in September 1974) we were sent a list of things that would be needed including various items of sports gear and, of course, the uniform. This included a distinctive blue* blazer with the school crest on the pocket. That was for the first two or three years. After that we got to wear a black/dark grey blazer which more closely resembled what other schools required and in the sixth form it was even more flexible, with many of the boys wearing a suit.

The list of things to be bought was quite long but we didn’t have to worry about the cost because we weren’t very well off and I qualified for vouchers from the Council to buy everything.

I was mightily relieved that I got to turn up for my first day at school in a new uniform because I didn’t have any good clothes – most of my normal clothes were hand-me-downs from my older brother. If I’d just worn my usual things it would have made be feel even more out of place than I did anyway, as all the posh kids would have been dressed much better than me. The uniform was a relief because it put everyone on the same footing – at least at a superficial level.

The big problem was that I had to travel every day on the bus from Benwell (a rough area, where I lived) to Jesmond (a posh area, where the RGS was and still is). The bright blue blazer was very conspicuous and I often got picked on by local kids while en route there or back. I remember getting spat on more than once. In the end I decided to wear a big coat over my uniform to avoid it being recognized, even on hot days.

The value of the uniform seemed to me that it was a leveller. It wasn’t really anything about expressing loyalty to the school, nor was it a means of imposing discipline and obedience, it just helped diminish the effect of parental wealth. In an environment in which social class was such a prominent factor it seemed to me that the uniform was a good thing. My friends from wealthier families disliked the uniform, usually for the same reason that I liked it.

I’m all in favour of updating the style of uniform to a more neutral, less gender-specific style – especially for coeducational schools – but I think as long as schools take in kids from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds then on balance they’re a good concept.

Anyway, you probably disagree so here’s a poll:

P.S. Our school had an exchange programme with a school in Germany – the Max Planck Gymnasium in Gelsenkirchen. When I was told the name I assumed the kids were all fantastic athletes, but then a teacher explained that the name came from the Greek word gymnos meaning “naked”. That minimal approach to a school uniform would never have taken on in Newcastle, on grounds of the weather among other reasons, but I learnt (to my disappointment) that it was only a metaphorical term anyway.

Back to School

Posted in Biographical, Covid-19, Education, Maynooth with tags , , , , on August 26, 2020 by telescoper

News that primary and secondary schools in Ireland are re-opening this week reminded me of this picture I saw a year ago:

I suppose the items on display there provide one way of dealing with the stress of worrying whether re-opening will result in a large increase in Covid-19 cases!

Meanwhile the Third Level sector is also preparing to re-open. Although we have another month to go before teaching is supposed to restart at Maynooth University, I’m already getting quite a few emails from students asking what things are going to be like when it resumes in September. All I can answer is what our plans are, but whether or not we can put those plans into practice depends crucially on things outside my control, including local factors (such as the number of students taking each module) and national factors (especially the restrictions intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19).

On the first matter we’ll have to wait until students register which, for first years will be very late in the day because of the delayed leaving certificate results this year. We will know a bit sooner about returning students, but even for them it will be a couple of weeks or so.

The national picture is even more uncertain. As of yesterday, the average number of new Covid-19 cases per day over the last 7 days was an uncomfortably high 103.6:

Over the next month will the local lockdown in Kildare carry on? What will be the impact of schools’ reopening? Will the national Covid-19 picture improve or deteriorate? Although at this stage we plan to resume (partly) campus-based teaching on September 28th, but we have to accept that if things take a turn for the worse we might not be able to do that and will instead have to go online. We’ll just have to wait and see.

That doesn’t help students, of course, because they have to make decisions about accommodation and travel. It’s a very awkward and stressful situation for them but I think the only way to approach the queries I’m getting is to tell the truth. Sometimes “I don’t know” is the only honest answer.

At least my own preparations are proceeding. I’ve just had my own tensor barrier put in. This is intended to deter people from wandering into my office and spreading their germs. I don’t think the installation is finished yet, however, as it doesn’t seem to be connected to the mains electricity.

Cardiff Schools and Colleges

Posted in Education with tags , , , , , , on June 25, 2012 by telescoper

There was a mighty kerfuffle around these parts last week, stirred by an email from the Vice-Chancellor “designate”, Prof. Colin Riordan. The incoming Vee-Cee doesn’t take over until September, but he’s clearly planning to do some pre-emptive reorganization.

The Cardiff University is currently divided into academic Schools and administrative Directorates. There are 27 Schools, including Physics & Astronomy where I work. The current system is a bit unusual in that the Heads of these Schools report directly to the Vice-Chancellor. Some other universities have an extra organization layer on the academic side, sometimes called Faculties.  Cardiff University used to have faculties, actually, but it lost them some time ago. The same could be said for many of its staff, come to think of it.

Anyway, Prof. Riordan has decided that he doesn’t want to have to talk to 27 Heads of School and has proclaimed that Cardiff will have a new structure consisting of three Faculties Colleges into which the existing schools will be grouped in thuswise fashion:


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences

Cardiff Business School

Cardiff School of City and Regional Planning

Cardiff School of English, Communication and Philosophy

Cardiff School of European Languages, Translation and Politics

Cardiff School of History, Archaeology and Religion

Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies

Cardiff Law School

Cardiff Centre for Lifelong Learning

School of Music

Cardiff School of Social Sciences

School of Welsh

College of Biomedical and Life Sciences

School of Biosciences

School of Dentistry

School of Healthcare Studies

School of Medicine

Cardiff School of Nursing and Midwifery Studies

School of Optometry and Vision Sciences

Cardiff School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Wales Deanery / School of Postgraduate Medical and Dental Education

School of Psychology

College of Physical Sciences

Welsh School of Architecture

Cardiff School of Chemistry

Cardiff School of Computer Science and Informatics

School of Earth and Ocean Sciences

Cardiff School of Engineering

Cardiff School of Mathematics

School of Physics and Astronomy

I didn’t realise before that some Schools are called “Cardiff School of….” or even “Welsh School of…” and others just “School of…”. I wonder why? Anyway, you can see that we’re now in the College of Physical Sciences along with Chemistry, Engineering etc and, um, Architecture. The new arrangement may also provide me with an opportunity to find out what “Informatics” means…

Having these new-fangled Colleges means that there are positions available as Heads thereof, and existing Heads of Schools have been invited to apply, hence a flurry of CV polishing.

Fortunately for all concerned, I’m not eligible.