Handbags and Gladrags on @GuardianTeach

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Popular culture has embedded the school prom into the UK education system. Don’t shun it, I argue, students and teachers need to share these magic moments. It’s easy to be cynical about this American imported rite of passage, but the school Prom is a beautiful thing and teachers should kick their shoes off and enjoy it…

School prom (June 2014)
School prom (June 2014)


Embrace your school prom!

This article can be found on The Guardian Teacher Network here.

Dancers with barefeet
It’s easy to be cynical about this American imported rite of passage, but the school Prom is a beautiful thing and teachers should kick their shoes off and enjoy it. Photograph: www.alamy.com

“…They told me you missed school today, so what I suggest you just throw them all away. The Handbags and the Gladrags, that your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy…”

Some of you may be humming the theme tune to The Office by now, but I’m not writing about the famous television series. I’m referring to the lyrical meaning of a very famous song that has particular significance at this time of the school year. I will return to this particular topic later…

The original song, penned by Mike d’Abo was released by Chris Farlowe. The song almost hit the bigtime after Rod Stewart re-released his version in 1972, but it wasn’t until the Stereophonics announced their own version of the song in 2001 that the well-known Handbags and the Gladrags entered the consciousness of the masses.

“…the latest clothes will make them feel that they will fit in with their peers…”

It’s about a girl taking everything for granted, resembling most young people growing up, believing that having the latest clothes will make them feel that they will fit in with their peers. What the vast majority tend to do is, forget that someone else had to pay for that luxury, and that looking trendy will get them nowhere if you don’t have some sort of education.

Amazing how relevant that still is today!

Now let me paraphrase the link between the lyrics of the song and the academic calendar: “After three years of expulsion from my previous school, based on my gender, I am finally considering attending my school prom(enade) to accompany our Year 11 and Sixth Form students for an end-of-year celebration. It is an occasion I really enjoy, but with some intrepidation. Allow me to provide you with some of the finer details to consider…”

Once constrained to the shores of the USA, popular culture has embedded this particular enrichment program a place into the UK education system and the word “Prom” will no doubt, be on the lips of most students at this time of year, in and out of revision sessions.

After a term of planning and dreaming, students become more and more animated as the event looms, to gain a brief respite from the stresses and strains of the examination season.

Girls become fixated with beautiful and flamboyant dresses, hoping to be crowned “Prom Queen”, while boys search high and low for that extra slice of swagger that will make them stand out from the crowd. Of course on their part, this will mostly appear to be carried out quite nonchalantly…

Weeks and weeks of discussing ideas stem from drawings etched by elite textiles GCSE and fashion A-level students, manipulating images sourced off the internet and ripped pages from celebrity gossip magazines. There will be one or two whose mother has passed a hand-me-down dress for a touch of individuality and sense of self-importance, or another 10 who cannot resist the luxury of a stretched-limo to take them from their front doorstep, two miles up the road to the venue or to a predetermined meeting point for all to see!

So, on a work-night, consider a late escapade with a possible overlap into your own precious weekend. It is of course, a fine-line between responsibility (in-loco parentis) and turning-a-blind-eye, relaxing with your students, celebrating the culmination of five long years of school life…

“…but ultimately, they have made it…

No doubt there will be some very, very loud music, plenty of bump and grind, coupled with many raised eyebrows; but ultimately, they have made it. They have made it this far through our complex education system, with all the external pressures we face as teachers that most students are oblivious too.

There will be those individuals who’ll make you smile, a shy-soul who may be deserving of a cuddle you’ve saved for someone special; or that cocky year 11 lad that was just about to hear your morale-boosting piece-of-advice to set them on their way into life, but has asked you to dance instead! You cringe and think twice, before your colleague smirks then elbows you in the ribs…

The joys and laughter of a school prom are plenty, but the celebration is ultimately determined by the character of the students and the conditions in which the event is set. It is vital to provide the students with clear expectations and boundaries so that all parties are content. There will be a small minority who will not make it up until “the actual day” and others who may have to be turned away before embarking on the coach or long-boat.

If I said there was no alcohol consumed by students, I would be lying, as it tends to be one of the crucial factors for most schools that determines a student’s final day with their peers. It needs policing…

Whatever the context of your school prom, I tell you this: Put your glad rags on and join in the festivities. We all need a forum to relax together, despite the pressures placed upon all who walk through the school gates each morning aged 4 to 68 (or whatever the retirement age grows to)!

Regardless of our throw-away society, students do design their own outfit; students may wear a hand-me-down with their chin held high, or even conjure up a magical piece using the cheap labour a discount clothes store.  No matter what, share this moment with your students that they truly deserve. Go see a side of school life that will remind you that it’s all worthwhile…

My only advice is, stay away from the dancefloor!

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