Tattoos, or body art, as many prefer to call them, are a controversial subject for many people.
Once the domain of those on the fringes of polite society, tattoos are fashionable and mainstream. It is now not uncommon to see tattoos in the boardrooms of companies in almost every industry.
Are schools in the UK any different and can teachers in the UK have tattoos?
Can Teachers in the UK Have Tattoos? Nothing in the UK law prohibits teachers from having tattoos. The law does not protect teachers with tattoos from being passed over for hiring or from being dismissed if the school administration deems the tattoos as inappropriate for a school setting. A teacher in the UK can have tattoos but the school can impose dress codes and other restrictions.
So, what is the big deal about tattoos? Why are tattoos such a sensitive issue?
Many of the feelings about tattoos and the people who sport them harken back to a time when only those of questionable backgrounds had tattoos.
Today, with tattoos more and more prevalent, especially among those just entering the workforce, the questions about tattoos in the workplace are coming to the forefront.
We’ll take a look at how a tattoo can impact your teaching career.
What Does the Law Say about Teachers with Tattoos?
In 2010, the UK enacted the Equality Act to prevent workplace discrimination and, in some instances, outside the workplace. The Equality Act defines many behaviors prohibited to employers. Among these are
- Discrimination – direct or indirect
- Discrimination based on a disability
- Actions against you because you made a complaint about a discriminatory act
- Failing to provide reasonable adjustments for someone with a disability
- Harassment related to a protected characteristic
Schools don’t get exemptions from complying with the rules and regulations in the Equality Act.
However, the issue of tattoos is not as clear as you might think from this brief synopsis of the Equality Act.
Schools continue to enjoy considerable leeway in how they deal with employees during the recruitment period and on the job.
Wouldn’t A Tattoo be Considered a Protected Characteristic?
In a word. No. The Equality Act is specific in its definition of a Protected Characteristic.
- Gender reassignment
- Civil Partnership
- Pregnancy and Maternity
- Religion and beliefs
- Sex and sexual orientation
Nowhere is the issue of tattoos directly discussed in the Equality Act.
Some would argue that tattoos of a religious nature are protected characteristics under the Equality Act. There is, yet, no resolution to this argument. Until the courts rule, the question of religious tattoos as a protected characteristic will remain open.
So, Where do Schools Stand Regarding Teachers and Tattoos?
Based on existing employment law and the Equality Act, schools are afforded wide latitude in how they set policies on teachers and tattoos.
Since tattoos don’t meet the test as a protected characteristic, school leaders are well within their rights to consider tattoos during the recruitment and hiring process.
This wide latitude given to school leadership allows many options to address the issue of teachers and tattoos.
Some of the more popular policies and approaches include:
- Is the tattoo visible? – If the tattoo is not ordinarily visible when wearing business attire or street clothes, the whole point may be moot. If the tattoo is hidden under normal circumstances, there should be no issue with the tattoo.
- If the tattoo is visible, is it offensive or upsetting? – Some tattoos are innocuous and merely decorative. Some tattoos may make statements about personal beliefs or political views. Others may contain images or symbols considered offensive. School leaders have the authority to make decisions about the acceptability of visible tattoos and to establish policies that dictate what is acceptable and what is not.
- Dress Codes – One of the most popular approaches to dealing with visible tattoos is the establishment of a dress code for staff and teachers that addresses the issues of covering tattoos. School leadership is well within the law to require teachers and staff to cover their tattoos while on the job.
- Prohibition of visible tattoos – The latitude in the law gives school leaders the right to establish employment policies that prohibit visible tattoos. This prohibition can extend to someone who was hired without any visible tattoos but then gets a tattoo on a visible part of the body.
Are Tattoos Such a Big Issue in Schools?
Several issues are at the heart of the visible tattoo arguments.
Surveys of schools in the UK find a diversity of policies concerning teachers and tattoos. The opinions of educators and parents toward tattoos and teachers are just as diverse.
- The diversity argument – Many argue schools should be as concerned with preparing students for the real world as they are in imparting technical and fundamental skills. The world today is one of extreme contrasts. The argument that keeping students in an almost sterile environment during their formative years and then expecting them to deal with the extremities of our current culture is not doing the student any service.
- Control Issues – Bureaucracies seek control. School bureaucracies are no different. Control means order and consistency, two long time characteristics of schools and school policies. The history of education still mandates much of the way schools manage themselves today. Tradition shapes many policy decisions in schools.
- Culture and Society – The culture and society in which the school exists can also influence the decisions policymakers reach about the tattoo issue. The attitudes of parents can sway school leadership to some degree.
- Are tattoos a Learning Experience? – Many teachers who sport tattoos see them as a part of the whole education experience. Some teachers use their tattoos as discussion starters that can enhance the educational experience.
Hiring and Staffing – Problems for Schools that May Mitigate the Issue
Many schools in the UK face challenges in finding teachers with the proper qualifications to fill classroom roles. With an ever-growing need for teachers, this shortage of people who want to enter the teaching field can affect policies about visible tattoos.
One school leader in the UK made his feelings known about the issue of tattoos and the current shortage of qualified teachers when he stated:
“They can have a javelin through their nose if they teach math.”
As the lack of qualified teachers grows, the issue of visible tattoos on teachers may be less of a factor.
Finding qualified individuals may become more important to school leaders and parents than the choices that potential teachers make about tattoos.
Tattoos that remain culturally sensitive or politically intolerant will undoubtedly continue to be an issue, but, more and more, tattoos will find their way into the classroom.
Can Teachers in the UK have tattoos? A Qualified Yes
Teachers in the UK can have tattoos.
There is no legal prohibition, and the law gives school leadership wide latitude in how they deal with the issue of tattoos. Most schools in the UK take a common-sense approach to the issue of teachers with tattoos.
As a teacher or someone interested in becoming a teacher, understanding the attitudes and policies of your employer, or potential employer is the key.
A few simple tips can make life easier if you are a teacher with visible tattoos.
- Keep them covered at work – Practice a little discretion and keep your tattoos covered if possible. Even if your school doesn’t mandate a dress code or covering your tattoos, keeping them out of sight may forestall any issues
- Make wise decision – Think twice about putting a tattoo where it can’t be easily covered. Consider the tattoo itself and how it may be perceived by others, especially those who don’t share your views and beliefs
- Be prepared for the questions – As a teacher, part of your job is to answer questions and provide understanding. Children are naturally curious, and you will get asked about your tattoos. Being able to incorporate your tattoos into an education experience will go a long way toward making them acceptable to your school leadership and parents.
The law is clear in the UK about how school leadership can deal with teachers who have visible tattoos.
The reality is that teachers with visible tattoos may be required to adhere to dress codes and that, during the recruitment process, the presence of visible tattoos is a legal consideration in the hiring process.
However, attitudes and policies are changing every day as the teacher shortage grows, and cultural attitude continues to change.
The reality is that if you are professional, competent, and willing to adhere to a dress code, you won’t find your visible tattoos a hindrance in finding a job.