School uniform to be affordable to all

A new law, which received Royal Assent in April, will require schools to follow Government statutory guidance on school uniform costs.

The affordability of school uniforms has long been a topic of conversation. Many parents feel outpriced when it comes to purchasing such items, especially when schools put restrictions on where to buy school uniform items.

However, the Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill, introduced by Labour MP Mike Amesbury in February 2020, looks to change all of that.

Schools will now be required to follow new statutory guidance on uniform costs and have been instructed to keep prices down. This includes keeping branded items to a minimum, allowing families to purchase cheaper items from high street alternatives.

In addition, schools will need to demonstrate that they have obtained the best value for money in their clothing contracts. They will also be asked to avoid exclusive single supplier contracts, unless one supplier can compete for the contract and where best value for parents is secured.

Research published by The Children’s Society last year found that the parents in state-maintained schools spent on average £337 per year on school uniform for each secondary school child, and £315 per year for each primary school child. On average, these costs are more than three times what parents think is a reasonable cost for primary (£85) and secondary (£105) uniform). So any law that brings costs down to more in line with what parents expect to pay for school uniform can only be a good thing.

Vital legislation

Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “We are thrilled this new law has passed. This legislation will be vital in ensuring that school uniforms become more affordable for families across the country.

“Young people told us back in 2014 that high-priced school uniforms had a huge impact on their ability to make the most of their education. We hope this new law will make children feel more equal to their classmates and make life easier for struggling families.”

Matthew Easter, co-chair of the Schoolwear Association, added: “As the leading schoolwear industry body, we welcome the Bill and the help it will provide for schools looking for further guidance on their uniform policies, to ensure the process of choosing a uniform supplier is as robust, competitive and easy as possible.

“In particular, we welcome the Government’s recognition that the quality and longevity of garments should be considered alongside their cost. While the vast majority of schools already work hard to keep their uniforms affordable, this Bill is an important step to help them continue to make the best decisions on their uniform policies and offer the best support to parents.”

Before the bill received Royal Assent in April, there were no rules in law that dictated how school governing bodies or academy trusts decided what uniform families can buy. Instead, there was only non-statutory guidance, which was ignored by many schools.

School Standards Minister, Nick Gibb, concluded: “School uniforms are important in establishing the right ethos in a school. They also help to improve behaviour and a sense of belonging and identity. But we want to be sure they are affordable for parents.

“This new law will help to save families money and ensure the cost of a blazer or shirt is never a barrier to accessing the best possible education.”

The new guidance is due to be published this autumn, which left many families missing out on saving some money ahead of the new school year starting in September.

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