Ban on parents in pyjamas is a shameful power game

Sam Carr, writing in the Conversation, says that requesting parents not to wear their pyjamas when dropping off their children is an attempt by those in positions of power to impose their value systems on other people.

Apparently, wearing pyjamas says something about your worth as a parent. The headteacher of an academy school has written to parents requesting that they ensure they wash in the morning and refrain from doing the school run in their pyjamas. She suggested that parents in pyjamas lower standards and fail to provide positive role models for children, reinforcing bad habits.

Reports suggest the move has received a high level of support from the local community in Darlington, north-east England. As a parent and educationalist, I couldn’t disagree with it more.

I think the debate is important because it’s about power. Those in positions of power have always sought to impose their value systems by manipulating people towards particular ways of behaving. To this end, philosopher Michel Foucault argued that one way of controlling people is to create a discourse that shames them into compliance. People in positions of authority hold particular power to induce such shame because they are perceived as experts by those over whom they hold that power.

Education is not immune to such issues of power and control. It has been argued that children, teachers, and schools are currently held accountable to an increasingly narrow idea of what constitutes a good education. The “parents in pyjamas” ban is a reminder of the ways in which power structures in education are expanding their control beyond the classroom and into family life: shaming, labelling and controlling parental behaviours that deviate from a dominant ideal.

Not bad role models

The underpinning implication is that parents who choose to wear pyjamas at the school gates are somehow bad examples, bad parents, or even bad people. Shame is the intended means of control here, based upon a belief that wearing your pyjamas at the school gates is morally questionable.

This should be of concern to all parents because it’s oppressive. Feminist philosopher Sandra Bartky argued that people are psychologically oppressed when they are persuaded (particularly by those who hold some sort of power over them) that something they do, or embody, makes them inferior human beings. What’s more, it’s even more oppressive if people are persuaded of their inferiority when the grounds for questioning it were deeply flawed in the first place.

There are numerous reasons why appearing in your pyjamas at the school gates doesn’t make you morally deficient. Parents who choose to delay their personal grooming routine until after they’ve done the school run in their pyjamas are not bad role models. It may be because they’ve opted to play with the kids, have a long family breakfast, or snuggle up with the children in bed for a bit longer when everybody’s sick of the endless daily grind and the kids are crying out for a cuddle. These parents are human beings trying to live in a way that feels right – for them and their families.

Learn to accept personal choice

Parental involvement in education clearly matters. Families and schools should work together to foster cooperative, supportive, mutual relationships. But that should never amount to a semi-dictatorial interaction, where parents are pressured by those in positions of power to passively enforce a narrow set of ideas about what constitutes a good education.

As educationalist Henry Giroux noted, a true democratic education should aim to help young people to become empowered, critically engaged, politically aware citizens. By such logic, a good parental role model is someone who possesses the critical awareness and personal integrity to challenge oppression and speak back to power when it feels right to do so.

In protest, I have written the best part of this article in my pyjamas. My seven-year-old saw me do it. But I’m not ashamed. Working in my pyjamas doesn’t reflect the fact that I have a bad attitude to work, or life, or that I’m an incompetent role model.

In fact, I feel rather comfortable, secure, safe, and relaxed in my pyjamas and I work very effectively that way. Rather than deciding for people what their pyjama-wearing habits mean about them, school leaders and parents alike ought to help children to appreciate and accept diversity and personal choice in others. Trying to understand when, where, and how people choose to wear their pyjamas is a great place to start.


Read more articles from the Conversation


Fair points here from Dr Carr or do you think sometimes value systems of others need to be challenged by those in authority?

Surely there are two questions here:

1) Do parental values/attitudes impact – sometimes negatively – on their children’s outcomes?

If yes,

2) Is it for schools therefore to try to change them?

Please let us know how you would answer in the comments or via Twitter…

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Categories: Leadership, Parenting and Primary.


  1. QueenieB

    Parents in pyjamas at school gates, they are in Tesco and walking the streets near me.  I feel sorry for them, it says to me depression, that they have no personal pride and do not care about themselves.

  2. Alan OSullivan

    I’m staggered by Sam Carr’s article that does little to respect schools’ efforts to develop behavioural code of conduct amongst their pupils – if parents can’t lead by example themselves then that represents a sorry future for their offspring. What next: children coming into school wearing their new uniform of choice, namely pyjamas? Nicky Morgan needs to show her teeth with this subject and stamp out poor parenting of which this is.

  3. Wearing PJs round the house is not the same as leaving the house in them.  Would Dr Carr accuse a school of ‘power’ games if the head expressed concern about, say, parents turning up in underwear?  Perhaps, yes, because being critical would imply someone in a ‘position of power’ would be enforcing a ‘narrow set of ideas about what constitutes a good education’.
    It isn’t enforcing a ‘narrow set of ideas’ to want parents to demonstrate the same standards of behaviour as the school is attempting to instil in their children.  Taken to its logical conclusion,any type of behaviour should be acceptable at the school gate – swearing, being drunk, smoking a joint – because it’s ‘personal choice’ which others must accept.

  4. VictoriaJaquiss

    I love this article, and completely agree. I think it is also be a cultural nothern thing. I did a music workshop ten years ago on local “deprived” estate and was astonished that two teenage girls took part in their pyjamas. But actually no riots broke out and the world went on spinning. There were some kids in “normal” clothes, who were really rude, but I didn’t put that down to how they were dressed.

  5. Ian H

    This person can’t distinguish between wearing pyjamas at home and wearing them outdoors.  Must be an education lecturer.

  6. VictoriaJaquiss There’s a difference between teenagers wearing comfortable clothes such as PJs for a workshop and parents wearing them outside the house.  I could accept there are occasions when parents may have to dash out wearing PJs to take children to school if, say, everyone got up late.  But to wear them when collecting children from school or to school functions?

  7. Nairb1

    The tone of the article seems to be anything is acceptable and one’s personal standards, however low, are to be defended in the name of resisting ‘authority’.
    Pompous twaddle. But I guess someone who chooses to ‘challenge oppression’ by writing an article in his pyjamas isn’t exactly Nelson Mandela.

  8. northernteacher

    Tbh, if the children are there on time, have been fed breakfast and are clean and properly dressed, who cares if the parents go home and sort themselves out afterwards! So many parents can’t even be bothered to make the effort to go with their children to school or even get up to feed them breakfast!

  9. acet2001

    SchoolsImprove I think Dr Carr is talking nonsense. Also I thought school’s main objection was to parents attending meetings etc in pyjamas

Let us know what you think...