Those of a certain age may recall the uniformity of appearance that school pupils were constrained to adopt in years past. Perhaps, like me, you were paraded for inspection once a week and the polish of your shoes, the shortness of your hair, the cleanliness of shirt collar and fingernails and the conformity of your dress were checked. The cloth and exact shade of grey of your suit demonstrated conformity; anything not from the official school tailor’s stock, like Widmerpool’s fictional overcoat, marked one out, or at least one’s parents out, as dangerous non-conformists.
That of course is the point of uniformity. Schools had what was known as a covert curriculum, one intended to fit pupils for a life of work or service, that taught obedience, punctuality and the ability to perform repetitive work-tasks. Whether one left school for Sandhurst or the factory floor the behavioural legacy of school pertained. For many, the transition to work meant merely a new and exiting freedom to choose a tie other than the school tie and grow a moustache, the grey suit, white shirt and black Oxfords from school remaining a lifetime constant.
Lest this sound like anti-libertarian Maoism, the homogeneity of the grey boilersuit and the pudding-bowl haircut, consider that capitalism requires exactly this from employed workers, that even voluntary activity such as playing in a Sunday soccer team requires such conformity. However, employment by others isn’t compulsory; if, after 16, you can earn your living writing computer code from your bedroom then you have the freedom to spend the day in your underpants and never to bathe or cut your hair or nails. Fair dos.
Education is a package. Adult employment grades rewards on the basis of qualifications, experience and ’employabilty’, and it’s the last that the covert curriculum is designed to cover. A disobedient pupil is also likely to be both unpunctual and unable to apply themselves to tasks, and leave with fewer qualifications. It’s also about deferred gratification. Those that accept the constraints of school discipline knowing that they will end are also more likely to achieve more and reach higher in life. And most parents who care for their children’s futures will also accept the behavioural constraints imposed by schools.