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Parents turn off heating so that they can afford school uniforms, says Children’s Society

28 June 2023


PARENTS are having to choose between heating their homes and buying school uniforms for their children, a survey by the Children’s Society suggests.

The charity found that uniform costs for secondary-school pupils average £422 per year, with costs for primary-school children at £287. The poll of 2000 parents from around the UK, published this week, also found that the high cost of uniforms was partly because of the number of branded items required by schools.

Despite the legal obligation on schools in England to have reviewed uniform policies by last September, nearly a full school year later, almost half the parents surveyed said that their school-uniform policies had not been updated. More than one quarter of parents were uncertain about the status of their school’s policies.

The report suggests that the financial burden of school uniforms extends beyond monetary costs, and has an impact on children and young people themselves. Despite the new guidance making it clear that schools should adopt a flexible approach when families struggle to afford uniform, 22 per cent of parents reported that their child had been put in detention for breaching uniform policies, while one in eight had been placed in isolation, and one in 14 were excluded for wearing the wrong clothes or shoes.

One schoolchild said that they had been given a detention for wearing a jumper without the school badge. Their mother explained: “I can’t afford to buy a school jumper at the moment. The cost of living has gone up, and I am having to prioritise heating the house and putting food on the table. There is no extra money.”

Costs go up when schools require items of uniform to be branded rather than allowing the standard, more affordable, options available at supermarkets or in high-street chains. The survey found that, on average, pupils are expected to have three branded items; and almost one third of secondary-school pupils are required to own four to five branded items, including PE kits.

The poll also revealed that secondary-school children’s parents face the highest expenses for various clothing items, with coats and bags being the most costly, averaging £77 per child annually. They are followed by sports shoes and boots for PE, which amount to an average of £66 per child per year. School shoes average £63, blazers £57, skirts and dresses £46, and jumpers and ties £42.

The chief executive of the Children’s Society, Mark Russell, said: “It’s alarming that parents are still forced to spend exorbitant amounts on school uniforms. With inflation and the cost of living eating into family budgets, we are disappointed that the affordability of school uniforms remains a significant financial burden for many families.

“As an organisation, we had campaigned for many years to make school uniform affordable, and, while some schools have made commendable changes to reduce costs, this positive trend is still not widespread enough. We urge parents who struggle with the affordability of school uniforms to contact the school and the school governors.”

The Children’s Society and its partners Children North East, and the Child Action Poverty Group, have developed practical advice and resources to help schools to navigate the statutory guidance as part of their “poverty-proofing” work in schools.

The statutory guidance to schools emphasises the promotion of second-hand uniform options, discouragement of branded items, avoidance of single-supplier contracts, and the need for clear and accessible uniform policies on school websites.

Mike Amesbury MP, whose Private Member’s Bill on school uniform costs became law (News, 26 February 2021), said: “I was delighted when the law was passed, in 2021, to make school uniform more affordable, so families had more choice and fewer specialist items to buy.

“However, it appears that the rules on branded items aren’t clear enough, so can be interpreted differently by schools, or the message isn’t getting through; so I would urge the Department for Education to do more, so schools make these important changes.”

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