Three cheers for the Christian headteacher sticking to his values

The headteacher of Hartsdown Academy, Matthew Tate has sent over 80 pupils home for not adhering to the school’s uniform policy. As the story hits the headlines, David Robertson explains why he believes Christians should back Mr Tate


Many moons ago, I led a revolt at my secondary school against a stricter imposition of school uniform. We were compelled to wear a tie – so I wore it as a bandana.

Our rebellion was a minor success. A little rebellion now and then is good for the soul!

This morning I heard about Matthew Tate, the headteacher of Margate’s Hartsdown Academy, who makes my former head teacher, Mr Smith, look like a wet blanket in comparison. He has sent home over 80 pupils for not conforming to the school’s uniform standards.

This was met with protests from some parents, who displayed both their lack of historical knowledge and perspective by comparing his methodology to that of the Gestapo.

Police were called and the media has had a field day. Experts and analysts have been called in to give us their insightful thoughts. My favourite was the “expert” who said that compelling children to wear uniform would psychologically damage them.

The whole incident reveals a great deal about our culture. Failing schools, like failing businesses, football teams and political parties need good leadership. Hartsdown is a struggling school with poor exam results and bad discipline. Matthew Tate has a good record in his previous school and he clearly wants to provide the leadership necessary here.

Good leadership is fair and equal. Mr Tate wrote a letter to all parents in July informing them of the change of policy. They were duly warned.


Given my opening paragraph, it should not be surprising that I have an enormous amount of sympathy for those who don’t like school uniforms. Apart from the fact that they are expensive (the spending on school uniforms has risen from £452 million to £856 million in the past decade), should we not be encouraging diversity, rather than uniformity? Perhaps. But the problem is that today’s materialistic and shallow society cannot really cope with true diversity.

One reason is simply that there is not equality. I remember my children coming home from school and talking about “Tesco two stripes”, referring to a cheap brand of supermarket trainers. Children who wore these, as opposed to Nike or similar, were mocked and abused. “Please don’t buy me those” – was the heartfelt plea – because the one thing a child fears most is being mocked by their peers. The fact is that if everyone is wearing the same uniform then there can be no mockery about those who are wearing something different. For that reason alone I would support school uniforms.


Another reason is that while our sociologist may pontificate about “individual creativity” and young people “expressing themselves”, the truth is that it is not often “themselves” they are expressing, but the values of the manipulated media culture that they are part of. A while ago I walked past the Playhouse in Edinburgh on my way to church and was mockingly greeted by a friend standing in a queue for tickets for Motorhead. “Hey Dave, you heading to church? You Christians are all the same – so boring!”.  To which I responded, “have a look at the 1,000 people in the queue, all dressed in black leather jackets and ‘Lemmy’ studs – and you think we are all alike!?” The idol of self-expression is really an illusion fostered by marketing companies and those who wish to exploit and control young minds.

And then there is the whole question of the sexualisation of young children and teenagers. Young girls wearing skin tight short skirts is not appropriate for school in any age, never mind one where internet porn and pedophilia is rife.

Muscular Christianity

The most interesting part of this story is that the head teacher, Matthew Tate is described in the press as “a muscular Christian”. What does this mean? I suspect this refers more to his tough discipline stance, than it does his gym workouts!

If it means the kind of Christianity that shows real love that is tough, compassionate and disciplined, then we can only cry “Amen!”. Because in the confused and increasingly dysfunctional world that our children are growing up in, the last thing they need is the kind of wet blanket “go, we wish you well, peace, love and understanding, man” Christianity which has been the staple diet of many school assemblies for years. Nor do we need the “flog ‘em and hang ‘em” brigade so beloved by parents who recall the days when they were beaten within an inch of their lifes. “It never did us any harm”, say those who show clear evidence of life-long harm!

What we need is someone who follows the practice and teachings of Jesus. Someone who knows that all human beings are equally valuable, not because they have been on an equality and diversity course but because they know how Christ values people and that all humans are created equal by God. Someone who doesn’t live in the fantasy Disney world of “everyone is good and no-one would willingly do anything wrong”. And someone who is prepared to provide a just, fair and equal learning environment for all.

I recently went to teach at a school where a pupil stood up and swore at me, mocked me and abused me. When I asked the teacher why she let him away with it, she told me that there was nothing she could do. If she reported him to the head, he won’t be excluded because there is a no exclusion policy on the orders of the local council who don’t want their exclusion figures to go up. What struck me about that situation was how unfair it was on not only the teacher, but above all the rest of the pupils.

If I was given the choice between this school and Matthew Tate’s, I know which one I (like 90% of parents) would choose. We need less social engineering in our schools, and more Christian leadership like Matthew Tate’s. Three cheers for the Head!



  1. Brilliant, David. A lot of ‘Non-denominational’ schools struggle with ethos and discipline. Consequently, a number of non-catholics are increasingly sending their children to RC schools because of their clear Christian ethos and strong discipline.

    Interesting point about the teacher feeling there was nothing that could be done. That’s also a growing issue in many schools. A number of pupils in a number of schools play the system because they know there are no consequences.

  2. Should let these same parents who are complaining organise the selection and training procedures for British SAS, American Navy Seal and Australian Commando. I’m sure they would breed a great bunch of Sissies dressed in the latest skinny tight jeans who can protect our shores .
    Mathew Tate your a hero. I wish I had you as a teacher to give me a kick in the backside when I needed it.

  3. “To a man with a hammer, everything becomes a nail.”
    This has nothing whatever to do with christianity or persecution of Christians. This seems to have mainly to do with a school’s and a teacher’s ‘muscular’ enforcement of their own policy and to inject christianity and persecution of this Christian teacher into the fray is not only dishonest, but also opportunistic and base.
    I assume, for all practical and polite purposes, that you are better than that. Stop hammering screws.

    1. I assume that you have asked the headmaster concerned whether it has anything to do with Christianity or not? and who said it had anything to do with persecution of Christians!? Perhaps You need to stop reading things through the atheist tinted glasses of your own prejudices?

      1. It’s you who injected christianity into what is apparantly, even from your post, a school policy issue. Who’s got the tinted glassed? By the way, I’m not atheist, just n9t Christian anymore. But unfortunately,mpeople like you see anyone who is not christian as atheist. That is dishonest and incorrect as well. You really should see an eye doctor about that astigmatism. It really is limiting your view of reality and your sense of politeness. Arrogance and rudeness are not christian values

      2. Of course I mentioned Christianity. That’s because all the reports mentioned his Christianity. It was in every news article, including the one I referred to which spoke of his ‘muscular Christianity’. In other words I did not inject Christianity in the report I commented on the Christianity that was already in report. And I did not mention persecution, or imply it. I’m sorry that you think calling someone an atheist is rude. Apparently I have a higher view of atheists than you do! Where do you lie on the spectrum of beliefs?

  4. I did find this situation odd. I get and support school uniforms but I dont get punishing the kids for the failures of parents. Sending children home for not wearing the correct version of black shoes is taking a useful policy in to the realms of personal fetish. Where, in a teaching career, does a man consider the clothes more important than the education? The children should have been allowed to stay and learn and the Headteacher should have sent letters to parents and even gone through a process of meeting parents who were not abiding by the rules. Punishing the children was just childish though.

    At my high school (Inverkeithing) we had uniforms and any deviation was challenged by the headmaster. I once tried black jeans as opposed to black trousers and told not to do it again by both headteacher and parents. And I didnt. Other kids were the same. However, there was one boy in my class who never wore a uniform. Ever. Usually a tracksuit. Everything was tried to persuade him and his mother to try school uniform, or even a variation of it. He never did. He was never punished and was allowed to keep coming to school and his mother was helped by social services but in the end he never wore that uniform. He never got in trouble and sat his standard grades before leaving. School uniform was very important in my school. But so was education and I think that education coming second to school uniform is an utter failure.

    1. Douglas,

      I think the approach is the same as Rudi Julliani used in New York. Tackle the little things and then work up, because the little things are symptomatic. My remark above was specific to one of these scorching days of June, when the highers are on, not a general rebellion.

      One pupil, in special circumstances not conforming can perhaps be allowed, but a mass ignoring of a policy has to be challenged. Mr. Tate got the attention of parent not to mention the rest of the country. Communication was achieved and results will come quicker (and with less disruption to education, than could be done by a softly softly approach.

      1. Alan,

        I think that my concern is that this wasn’t a little thing. The man has over-fetishised the uniform. Its not like the pupils turned up in sportswear or casual wear. The were in uniform. But not exact uniform he clear spent is summer fantasing about. He specified leather shoes but sent a pupil home for it not being the right type of leather. Teachers barred a girl for not wearing a blazer because her blazer was in the school after she left it there on the last day of the previous term. This wasn’t a rebellion. This wasn’t a failure to respect the heads authority to set a school uniform. This was a list in his head that wasnt made clear on paper (the buckle on the shoe not being the right colour problem). He could have made the corrections by letter and then meetings and a issue complete list of accurate definitions (even the scarfs in winter have to be one colour and one style which wasnt clearly set out). I am sure he could have got them all dressed up as he wished soon enough with a little care and thought.

        The little things do matter I agree. But to make the matter more than the main reason for being at the school gate in the first place is a complete abdication of his duty as an educator.

  5. As a former “Grammar School” pupil, I wore my uniform with an element of pride (apart from the cap, which was removed as soon as one was out of sight of the Headmaster’s study window!). As one who spent the last 25 years of his working life as a Secondary School teacher (RME and History), I can vouch for the falling level of school discipline. I served under a number of Heads (most of them in my last school, where I taught for 20 years) and only those from the earlier years were Heads who were, in my opinion, worthy of the position. The others were those who had “risen through the ranks” in the more free and easy attitude that has arisen over the decades.

    It is true that, where sanctions do not exist, children will push the boundaries to see just how far they can go. I had my own classroom policies, and pupils were made aware of them in S1. They knew the boundaries – and the vast majority kept to them. Perhaps that is why I have, in my retirement, hundreds of former pupils as “Facebook friends” (at their request only!), and even meet up with some for a coffee and a chat when I am back in Scotland (currently living in France).

    Mr Tate deserves all the support that we are capable of providing – and that starts with our prayers!

  6. Fantastic article David,we wore school uniform all through school and our children have as well,
    I agree with your despair regarding the teachers position,putting the child out of class or school is only doing what the youngsters want nowadays!Sadly it is the parents this all reflects on lack of discipline in the home and their lack of respect for the teachers,how that is tackled I have no
    Psychological answers!I wish more head teachers were like this man,the parents are annoyed because they have to collect the children,send them out appropriately dressed,I know school clothing grants vary per region from £42-£91 per child so it is fair to say some funding will be available to them to dress the children.

  7. Well said David,

    Mr McLellans comment about “fetishised” can safely be regarded as laughable as his previous comment about “religion” with regard to denominational schools in the light of report about them being better performing.

    Of course there being no consequences for swearing and treating teachers with lack of dignity is not in the interest of children and a child in a uniform is less likely to be bullied for being different.

    So yes courageous leadership making changes in the best interests of children, both in terms of achieving their potential with performance and with carrying dignity to foster a vision of the life they could have can only be of benefit to pupils and society.

    What dignity is there rather than this, girls being liked for how short their skirt is a boys being held up for how rude they can be to a teacher?

    Isn’t that what we get with generation snowflake?

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