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Let's focus on results, not fashion statements

By Suzanne Breen

Published 05/09/2015

Clare Carlin with a letter about son Jonathan’s appearance
Clare Carlin with a letter about son Jonathan’s appearance

To some parents, he's the headmaster from hell. Matthew Munro is meeting fierce resistance as he introduces a strict new policy on uniforms and untidy hair at Breda Academy.

It's not surprising, the new principal wants change. Breda Academy is an amalgamation of Knockbreda High and Newtownbreda High, and both schools' academic results were poor.

Coming in 188th of our 204 secondary schools, Knockbreda High was in the relegation zone. Only 28% of pupils secured five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C, including English and maths, according to recent figures.

Newtownbreda High was a little, but not a lot, better, coming in at 140th in the 204 school league table.

It looks like Mr Munro, an Englishman, was the outsider brought in to shake things up. He clearly wants improvement and his no-nonsense approach involves a strict dress code for his pupils.

Skirts must be worn to the knee, only unpatterned tights are allowed, and body piercing and heavy make-up are banned. Nails can be painted one colour only. Hair may be dyed but only natural colours - not blue, purple, plum or bleached white. And dip dyeing isn't allowed - there should only be two blended colours at a time.

Why these regulations are needed in the first place is beyond me. It sounds as if some pupils were dressing to go to a nightclub, not school.

The new principal is asserting that students are there to learn, not to make fashion statements.

It's footwear and hairstyles which have caused the greatest outcry. Black leather shoes must be worn, not trainers, and coloured laces and high heels are banned. The minimum hair length is a number two razor.

This all sound perfectly reasonable to me. Mr Monro wants the school to be smart. His logic - that a lax dress code and an absence of regulations can encourage low standards in every area of school life - is understandable.

What's difficult to comprehend is why so many parents are furious. They're saying the headmaster has turned the school into "an army camp", but maybe discipline is exactly what was required.

Parents have taken to social media to protest. Launching a Facebook campaign against the new principal seems a rather juvenile way of dealing with any perceived problems.

But the big question is why those parents up in arms about Mr Monro's changes aren't equally incensed about the real outrage - both schools' previous poor academic performances.

It's fighting for better results, not hairstyles and hemlines, on which Breda Academy parents should focus.

In today's harsh economic climate, when even those with first-class qualifications struggle to find work, what chances have school-leavers with none?

Matthew Monro's 'crime', I suspect, is to have high hopes for his pupils: to believe they are capable of better results to improve their life chances.

The new principal isn't ushering in a return to Dickensian times where teachers on power trips sadistically humiliate children.

He knows Breda desperately needs tough love if it is to perform better academically and regain that all-important sense of pride. A weak, wishy-washy headmaster who just wanted to go with the flow and be friends with everybody would be disastrous for this school.

It seems that it's the parents, not the pupils, finding Mr Monro's new rules most difficult. Children adapt quickly but adults often resist been taken out of their comfort zone.

Remember the backlash when TV chef Jamie Oliver had school dinners in Britain revamped and some parents gathered outside to pass junk food to their children so they wouldn't have to eat healthy meals.

Let's hope the mums and dads in Breda are more sensible than to engage in similar sabotage against Mr Monro's regime. They should give it a chance - for the sake of their children.

Belfast Telegraph

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