Can teachers in the UK have tattoos?

There are many ways that we humans choose to express our individuality or perhaps our identification with a certain group, we may wear a particular style of clothing or footwear, style our hair in a distinct way, or even undergo body modifications, such as implants, piercings and tattoos. The reasons for these forms of self-expression are many and varied, they include symbolism, religious rites, sexual, cultural and spiritual purposes. This article will cover tattoos, we will look at how this form of body modification could affect a career in teaching, this is often a contentious issue, can teachers in the UK have tattoos?

Love them or hate them, it seems that tattoos are now desirable and fashionable for all adult age groups, whatever their background may be. Once only sported by those in the military, the criminal fraternity, circus sideshow “freaks”, gang members or the odd rebellious teen, the body art of tattooing is much more ancient than most people are aware, it dates back to at least the neolithic age and has been seen in countries all around the world. The popularity of tattoos has ebbed and flowed throughout history, so how are they viewed in the modern workplace of today, particularly in the teaching profession? 

Are teachers in the UK allowed to have tattoos?

The subject of whether teachers in the UK can have tattoos or not is actually quite a grey area, legally there is nothing to say that this is not allowed, however, there is also no legal protection for a teacher with tattoos, as the law provides a wide leeway for educational establishments where their employees are concerned in this subject. A place of education, whether it be a school, college or university will be well within their rights to give due consideration to tattoos sported by any teacher, this can apply during the recruitment process or even during the period of employment of a teacher.

What does the Equality Act 2010 say about tattoos in the workplace?

The Equality Act of 2010 replaced existing anti- discrimination laws with a single act that “legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society”, so surely this should prevent discrimination against teachers with tattoos? As mentioned before, the Equality Act 2010 does not specifically protect anyone with a tattoo, in fact an educational establishment has the right to introduce a dress code that imposes restrictions upon an employee’s appearance whilst at work, the dress code should clearly show what is acceptable regarding visible tattoos or other forms of body art.

Could a tattoo be considered a Protected Characteristic?

The UK government clearly defines the specific Protected Characteristics as:

  • Age
  • Gender reassignment
  • Being married or in a civil partnership
  • Being pregnant or on maternity leave
  • Disability
  • Race, including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Although tattoos are not mentioned in the Equality Act 2010, there are some who feel that tattoos of a religious nature should be considered to be a Protected Characteristic, however, this is once again a grey area that has been left to the discretion of educational establishments.

For further information on the Equality Act of 2010 please click here

Teachers and tattoos, what is generally considered acceptable?

Schools, colleges and universities across the UK have a diverse range of policies regarding teachers with tattoos, with teaching establishments for older students being far more accepting of visible tattoos than infant and primary schools.

Senior schools, colleges and universities generally do not have an issue with teachers sporting visible tattoos, however, this still seems to depend upon the location and size of the visible tattoo. The subject that is taught by the teacher is also taken into account, as tattoos on the legs of a PE teacher will be visible when shorts are worn, this is less likely to occur with a maths, English or science teacher. A teacher with tattoos on their arm is much more likely to be considered acceptable than someone who has tattoos on their face or neck, a dress code could require the teacher with tattoos on their arm to wear long sleeves in order to cover the tattoo, this would not be possible for someone with tattoos on their face or high on the front of their neck.

The type of tattoo is an important consideration, whilst many tattoos are simply decorative, others may contain offensive imagery or words, so it is completely understandable that parents and school leaders would object to them being on display.

Infant and junior schools are likely to have stricter rules regarding visible tattoos than educational establishments for older students, this may in part be due to the fact that these schools will have greater parental interaction than senior schools, colleges and universities. There have been instances of teachers with visible tattoos losing their jobs because of how their body art affected young pupils. One example of this is a teacher who was covered in tattoos from head to toe, even his tongue and eyeballs were tattooed, he lost his job teaching young children after the parents of a three year old complained that their child had suffered nightmares due to his appearance, he can now only teach students over the age of six. Despite being known as the world’s most terrifying teacher, he insists that it is good for pupils to be taught by someone like him, he stated that “children who see me learn tolerance of others”.

Staff dress codes

Educational establishments are perfectly within their rights to establish a dress code for all members of staff, this dress code can stipulate that whilst members of staff are on school premises, any visible tattoos must be covered. If the tattoo is hidden by the teachers clothing, there should be no problem at all, tattoos on arms or hands could be concealed by bandages or sticking plasters.

Teachers with tattoos

The issue of teachers with visible tattoos remains a sensitive topic, they might be permitted but you may be asked to cover them up. School leaders generally use common sense where visible tattoos are concerned, we recommend that you make contact and ask what their policy is on the subject.

Most schools in the UK take a common-sense approach to the issue of teachers with tattoos.

Author Profile

James Barron
My first experience of teaching was in 2016, when I was asked to
deliver a talk to a group of 16-year-olds on what it was like to start
your own business. I immediately knew I wanted to become more
involved in teaching but I didn’t know where to start as I had not
previously considered a career in education. A few weeks later I
agreed to teach a class of Chinese students from the Shanghai
Technical Institute of Electronics and Information, who had travelled
to the UK to learn English and Software Engineering, after that I was
hooked. Within the next few years, I taught hundreds of students of
many different nationalities, aged from 16 to 60, and from
levels 2 to 6. I focused my time teaching with Bath University and
Bath College for several more years until I felt a change was in order.
For the last few years, I have taught remotely with several private
training organisations, provided dedicated one to one coaching
sessions, provided consultancy on teaching and assessment practices
and written about my experiences as a teacher. I plan to continue
with my current activities for the foreseeable future but I’m always
open to new teaching experiences.

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