Teachers Wearing Academic Dress

Should School Teachers Wear Academic Dress?

26th February, 2019

Academic gowns are now rarely seen in the classroom but here Churchill Gowns Director of Operations, Ruth Nicholls, tells us why we shouldn't be too quick to throw off the long held tradition of teachers wearing academic dress

The decline of academic dress in schools

Not so long ago children weren’t the only ones who wore a uniform to school - teachers were often also required to wear the academic gown and hood associated with their most senior qualification. Academic dress was not something worn once for a graduation ceremony, it was seen in classrooms across the UK.

Over the past 50 years this is a tradition that has largely died out. Although some teachers are still required to wear academic dress, this tends to be only at private and grammar schools and is often confined to special occasions such as school events or assemblies. One supply teacher was even banned from teaching in 2011 because he insisted on wearing academic dress and was perceived to be menacing!

Scene from Goodbye Mr Chips featuring academic cap and gown
Martin Clunes in the modern remake of popular school teacher drama 'Goodbye Mr Chips'


Why embrace the cap and gown?

It all sounds a bit ‘Harry Potter’, having your teachers swoosh down corridors in a long black gown, but there are more reasons to embrace academic dress than just theatrics! For one, the style of hood and gown worn by teachers usually reflects the level of qualification they achieved (bachelors degree, masters degree or PhD) and the institution they attended. It indicates their high level of education and the immense amount of scholarship that went into their becoming a teacher, and therefore should command respect from their students. As the leading history teacher John David Blake wrote in 2015:

“Teachers are not their pupils’ friends, or fellow students, or parents, but something else that combines aspects of all of these and significantly more. They are entitled to respect for their academic accomplishments and for their work; a mark of the distinction of their role and of their own achievements would, I think, be no bad thing.”

We may be biased, but we think any tradition that encourages people to engage with the wonderful heritage and symbolism of academic dress is a good one! For many people the academic cap, gown and hood is a peculiar ensemble that is worn only once in a lifetime for a couple of hours at a graduation ceremony. Photos of you wearing it may adorn your parents walls for the rest of time, but how much do understanding do people really have of its historical importance? Having teachers wearing academic dress on significant occasions would make pupils aware of it at a younger age and perhaps even encourage them to aspire to a career in academia!