Fashion Show – It’s a Jungle Out There!

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By Jake Scott

mg_6974The Bedales Sixth Form put on a fashion show in November, and I was invited to go along.  Even though I’ve been to a professional fashion show before, this was amazing to see it done at a school.  It inspired me to put on a fashion show at Dunhurst.  The question was, would I be allowed to do this?  How would I go about it….and would anyone be interested in being involved?

After I’d seen the sixth form show, I went back to school and asked Simon (my housemaster) if I could run a fashion show and he was enthusiastic and willing to help.  As he runs the school plays, this was a huge advantage – he knows how to put on a show!

I planned to announce it in assembly, but I had to work out what I was announcing and what I wanted from the students.  I had some clothes that I had designed and made from scratch, and so had a couple of other people.  However, I knew that this wasn’t enough so we needed to work out how to include more.  I thought of the textiles club and thought there may be some items from that, and lots of people were generally interested in fashion, so maybe we could create something.  I hoped there would be enough between all of us to pull something together.

So I worked out what areas I would need help with. In assembly I announced that I was going to be doing a fashion show and asked for helpers backstage, models, people who had made clothes and prop/set makers. I was amazed at how many people came to speak to me afterwards.  In my notebook, I wrote down their names in the areas they would help with.  It was wonderful that so many people were interested and even excited at this early stage – I felt that I could really do this!

The main challenge to begin with was getting the clothes that people had made – some people said they had made stuff but it never turned up.  It felt at the beginning that we wouldn’t have enough clothes to make a show, but then Simon came up with the idea of putting outfits together from our costume department (wardrobe).  This was a great idea, and wardrobe went one step further by giving us clothes that wouldn’t be used in the future and said we could do whatever we wanted with them, to give them a new life.  What was great was that there were people interested in doing this who had never done anything with clothes before, and it was fun to introduce them to up-cycling and help them with developing their sewing skills.

Once I knew that we were on track I had to work out a date and a venue. Luckily the week after half term was the year 4-6 play and so we had the idea to use their set and adapt it.  It was a Greek set with pillars and statues.  My idea was to turn it into an overgrown civilisation….this is where the theme of ‘the jungle’ came from.

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Our Australian Gap student, Mae, had experience of working at a fashion show so she was a great help, setting out various things I would need to consider.  She also helped create a mood board for me and the upcyclers to use for upcycling from wardrobe, and lots of other organisational things to think about…lighting…sound…staging…running order…etc!

As we got closer to the date, we needed to make sure parents were invited and students were aware it was happening – we needed an audience!  That involved sending out invites, putting up posters around the school (that Mae designed) and arranging catering for refreshments.  I also was keen to make it an event that would benefit a charity, and I have done fundraising for Christopher’s Smile before and I’m passionate about continuing to do this, so I nominated them as the charity.

We were really on a roll now!  And every day I had new ideas for the fashion show, so it was an on-going creative project.

In order to have as many garments as possible, the textiles club upcylcled men’s shirts by stencilling and embroidering on them, and generally adapting them.  Every Wednesday afternoon the upcyclers would meet in the textiles department to work on their creations from wardrobe – even the English teacher and art technician made garments! The other set of clothes we had were dresses that I had designed and made, and dresses that a year 7 student had designed and made – we have both been passionate about fashion for years and love to design and make clothes.  He and I have frequently met to discuss fashion, and he was very involved in the show, upcylcing from wardrobe and modelling too.  I hope that I’ve started a tradition in my final year of putting on a fashion show, and that he will carry it on.

What makes a fashion show successful?  Not only the clothes…music, lighting, models and the catwalk.

img_4924-cropIn my spare time, I would search music and listen to different genres to see what might go well with the Jungle theme.  I considered traditional club music that would normally go with a fashion show, I thought about rock (which I love), but in the end I decided to introduce African Drums (the jungle theme!) in between some modern club tracks.

You also need to have intro music whilst people are taking their seats.  Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz and thought this would be welcoming without being overwhelming.

Once we had the foundations of the show in place, I had to think about the detail.  The first thing I had to do was assign garments to models and check they fitted.  Mae helped with this.  We had all the finished garments on a rack and we labelled up the hangers with the model’s name.  Each model had two or three outfits.

I then thought about how to present the clothes during the show, and worked out that having ‘collections’ would work the best.  So I grouped together the shirts from textiles club, the homemade garments, the dresses by me and the year 7 fashion designer, and finally the upcycled wardrobe garments.  I thought that during the show, between these sections, I would introduce the next lot of clothes to give context to the show and time for the models to get changed. One thing we had to keep in mind was that we had to order these so that it flowed nicely and the models had enough time to get changed backstage. Mae did this.

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The running order is crucial so this means making sure that all the garments are in the right section and labelled with their order, and that models will be on the catwalk at the right time having had enough time to change backstage. This is where the backstage crew come in.  They had to be extra organised in getting the models lined up backstage (there was a boys and girls changing room).  We had to have people by each door ready to send the next model on in the right order.  Quite a lot to think about!

img_4858I had been really organised, writing lists of things I had to do or ask for help with each week, ticking them off as I went.  I was surprised at generally how calm I was….until the week of the show, when I had a mini meltdown on the Monday night!  I guess this was to be expected, but in the end I knew that the show would go on, and if there were some blips, it wouldn’t matter in the grand scheme of things…

The week of the show! The years 4-6 play had finished and the set was eagerly waiting to be made into a jungle…I briefed the prop and set makers with what I needed them to do.  We went to the prop cupboard and got anything to do with jungles…camo nets, leaves, branches, ferns, flowers, etc, and set about transforming the area.  I had done a diagram of the catwalk, that I showed the set team. The idea was to put two pillars either side of the centre stage, near the audience, which created a space for the models to walk to and do a pose/twirl. We also got Facilities to hang up a HUGE camo net along the back wall to form a backdrop onto which we put up the wording ‘It’s a jungle out there’ in ransom-note-style multi coloured paper. This title was an homage to Alexander McQueen as his first show as head of Givenchy was named the same.

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The day before the show, during clubs time, I asked all the models and some of the back stage crew to come for an initial rehearsal.  We ran through the pace at which they would walk (slow pace to fast music) and the route on the catwalk.  There were complaints about the slow walk – the models thought it might not work, but I was insistent because I knew it would be powerful and graceful.  Some of the models weren’t there due to dance rehearsals which made it difficult because they had missed out on the instructions. Luckily it was easy for them to catch on to it the next day.

img_4928On the day of the show, which was to be at 6pm, we finalised the running order.  We added some last minute garments that we hadn’t had the day before. We had time in the afternoon for a tech run through, which included sorting out the lights and music.

And finally we had all the models together for a dress rehearsal, with lights and music.

At this point I had to look at the detail.  We fine-tuned the running order, and made sure models were aware that they had to go completely barefoot (no socks or leggings) unless instructed to.  We made sure that bra straps weren’t visible and that they made good poses. I got the models together at various times during the afternoon to remind them of various things like this.

makeupThe other thing that we had done was to make crowns, which I thought would look good with the hair and makeup that Mae had proposed.  However, during rehearsals the crowns weren’t working.

At the last minute, just before the show was to go on, I decided that they weren’t needed and might distract from or clash with the garments so I decided to call off the crowns.

The makeup was tricky to apply, and we had some panics backstage just before the show, getting lots of people to help!  And it didn’t help that we ran out of hairspray and hair gel….but now I’ve learnt that I will need to check these details next time!

Another theme that emerged – and I think we tackled it successfully – was gender neutral dressing.  We had boys in girls’ clothes and vice versa.  This didn’t raise an eyebrow amongst the young or the old in the audience, which I thought was wonderful.

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On the night, the show went really well and we all had lots of fun. It was great because we had time to do it twice.  I think that some people were surprised at the decision to do it again, but the models relaxed and enjoyed the second time more, and the audience were able to see the clothes again. I don’t think it would have been the same show if we hadn’t done that.

The sixth formers whose show had inspired me came and really enjoyed it, and I got lots of really positive feedback. There were over 40 students involved in pulling this together, which was great.  I think that people were impressed and surprised by what they saw, as they weren’t expecting it to be such a big event.  I was also delighted to raise £69.07 for Christopher’s Smile!

Passionate men, and how to get more of them

Sometimes it seems that we think of little else. Whilst you could be forgiven for believing that I spend too much time reading a certain type of women’s magazine, I am in fact talking about male primary school teachers. To be more specific, I want to share some thoughts on the benefits of having them in junior schools, why achieving this can be so difficult, and how the problem might best be approached by school heads and policy makers respectively. Whilst there is no magic bullet, I believe that the right school ethos and culture can help persuade potential applicants that they will be given the opportunity to do what they most care about, and that this can go a long way.

In a recent article in The Telegraph, Julia Hartley-Brewer applauds the rising numbers of women in boardroom positions in the UK and the positive effects this has on organisational performance, but laments the lack of gender balance in primary school classrooms. Also in The Telegraph, Neil Lyndon has argued that boys fall behind girls as a consequence of the relative lack of male teachers working with younger children. Whilst I find myself raising an eyebrow at some of the arguments he employs in support of his claim, I agree that there is merit in having a strong male presence on the teaching staff, and that achieving this can present a challenge.

Rectifying this gender imbalance can be easier said than done however, not least as there is a range of disincentives to men considering the profession. As Lyndon points out, it offers relatively low status, and issues around child protection can see men attracting scrutiny as to their motives. Nor are the salary prospects great. It takes some courage, then, and a commitment to early years’ education, for men to enter the profession and contend with all that accompanies being a primary school teacher.

This is a great pity. In my experience, men can be valuable role models at a formative point in young people’s lives. Men are able to relate to boys, in particular, in ways that that carry a special kind of weight – essential if we are to deal with the ever-present danger that boys see learning as something that only girls do. Hartley-Brewer observes that boys often need a “more competitive, hands-on style of teaching that male teachers are more likely to understand.” I am not so sure: without it ever becoming overt, there is something very powerful in a man giving lessons that encourage deep thinking, or modelling the kind of gentleness, restraint and respect that is valued and expected at school and beyond.

Lynton ascribes the feminisation of primary school teaching to the introduction of pay parity for the genders in the early 1960s, followed by what he describes as a “feminist mission to raise the self-esteem and social position of girls” at the expense of the education of boys. I have never experienced any kind of ideological intent or overt gender preference in teachers with whom I have worked, and the culture of Bedales means that such dispositions in any applicant would be detected and dealt with during the process of interview.

During my time at Bedales, the prep school has enjoyed consistently the benefits of broadly equal numbers or male and female staff. At the time of writing we have 15 male and 23 female teachers. I like this ratio – it brings with it a culture that we value, and which is thrown awry whenever the balance shifts. It matters to us enormously that – as with staff – the boys and girls in our care should appreciate each other first and foremost as colleagues.

So – is there a secret to attracting passionate men that I might share? For heads, I suspect that the trick lies in developing an educational ethos and accompanying culture that attracts the very best applicants with the promise of the licence to do what they do best. Seek to recruit the teachers that most suit the requirements of the school, and have applicants undergo the assessment of a number of people – both staff and pupils. Above all, develop an educational ethos that values inquisitiveness, individualism and creativity, because I suspect that somewhere within such a mission lies the attraction of primary school for male teachers. Any policy makers persuaded that, instead, a good education necessarily comprises a rigid curriculum and ever more testing, please take note.

By Jane Grubb, Head, Bedales Prep School, Dunhurst

Why schools may be the key to gender-happy workplaces

Recently, questions of gender, workplace practices and professional behaviour have made their fair share of headlines. Perhaps most obviously, we learned that barrister Charlotte Proudman had taken the decision to ‘shame’ solicitor Alexander Carter-Silk who had sent her a message, in response to her own seeking a connection on the professional social media site Linkedin, in which he described her profile photograph as ‘stunning’. She replied with a rebuke, and then published an account of the transaction on Twitter.

Predictably, the behaviour of both has drawn criticism. For some, he is a chauvinist – arguably emblematic of the culture ascribed to some of the country’s top companies by Clarissa Farr of St Paul’s Girls’ School, which she says sees high-flying young women driven out by ‘laddishness and low-level discrimination’. For others, she is a ‘feminazi’, who has chosen to misinterpret a well-intended compliment as an act of sexism.

I have no personal stake in this particular debate and no strong feeling as to culpability, or with regard to any prevailing trend. In my many years at work in a variety of professional environments, I have heard equally belittling and sexist comments from both male and female colleagues – the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus idea that the sexes are from different planets sometimes still prevails. However, as the headteacher of a co-educational prep school (Bedales was one of the first independent co-educational schools in the UK), I have more than a passing interest in how educational institutions might help to foster respectful, kind and supportive relations between men and women.

In July, Dr William Richardson of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference drew attention to the problems of a ‘laddish’ culture in some corners of Britain’s universities – a subject that in recent years has been a concern for the National Union of Students (NUS), and on which it is seeking institutional responses. My strong feeling is that the work of educational establishments, which are influential in the earlier lives of young people, may be the key to the ways in which they relate in gender terms later in life, and that this has implications both for what our schools do and how they are constituted.

It is important that all kinds of schools, whether co-ed or single sex, take care over the subliminal or even overt messages that they send out to young men and women about the opposite sex. If it is our shared wish that employees in Britain’s organisations might see each other as fellow human beings and professionals, then all schools share a duty to ensure that equality runs deep throughout their approaches to school life. If schools are truly to prepare our young people for their future places of study and work, then they should offer an environment that has close to equal numbers of both men and women in the staff room and girls and boys working, playing and building friendships together from a very young age. Teachers must set the example in how they treat each other in the workplace and take equally swift action in any behaviour that is sexist from girls and boys. The same rules must apply to staff themselves: I hope that we have the kind of ‘equalist’ environment at Bedales Prep School where we can pay each other compliments and know that they are meant with kindness and respect – we want our staff and pupils alike to have skins that are neither too thick nor too thin. That Charlotte Proudman was upset by the ‘stunning’ comment may say as much about the conditions within her places of work and learning as it does about her. That Alexander Carter-Silk felt confident in making it perhaps says much the same.

By Jane Grubb, Head of Bedales Prep, Dunhurst