Posted: 16 October 2015

Parents still being forced to pay over the odds for school uniforms

This week, the Competition and Market Authority (CMA) has written an open letter to head teachers, governing boards and school uniform suppliers, urging them to make school uniforms available at the best prices possible.

The letter, in response to complaints from parents about high costs, outlines how parents can pay significantly higher prices for items of uniform when they are forced to go to a single supplier.

The spiralling costs of school uniforms affect poorer families drastically – contributing to the cycle of debt which can cause them to miss out on vital household essentials. This in turn, has a debilitating effect on the attainment and well-being of poorer pupils.

We believe that schools could do more to ensure that uniforms are affordable for all parents.

School costs can have a serious impact on families and children

Our report, The Wrong Blazer, found that more than one million children live in families that have cut back spending on food or other basic essentials as a result of these costs. More than half a million children are living in families that have got into debt because of uniform costs.

The Wrong Blazer followed an in-depth investigation into the hidden costs of school by the Children’s Commission on Poverty, a panel of young people from across England.

The Commission’s final report, At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life, found that school costs were not only affecting family finances, but also harming the well-being of the poorest children.

The  Commission found that children and young people were bullied and felt stigmatised by their inability to afford appropriate uniforms, with one young person saying: ‘I’m nervous about getting bullied and getting lost [at secondary school]. There is a girl, she thinks I’m acting like a boy – but I’m not – ‘cause I wore trousers… I wanted a skirt for ages. My mum couldn’t afford a skirt so I wore trousers.’

Our analysis of recent research from the Department for Education into School Uniforms shows that if all parents were able to purchase school uniform and PE kit from any supplier they could save £189m and £186m respectively – a total of £375 million per year. 

What more can be done to help with school uniform costs? 

The CMA letter advises governing boards to call for a review of school uniforms to ensure there is competition between suppliers and retailers. It also urges head teachers to adhere to the Department for Education guidance that was issued in 2013 recommending that schools prioritise value for money when choosing uniform policy.

We very much welcome the approach taken by the CMA, but also think that the Government could do more by making the school uniform guidance statutory and re-issuing it to schools.

By making the guidance on school uniforms statutory schools would have a legally binding commitment to keep uniforms affordable. The re-issuing of the guidance would mean that schools are reminded that cost should be their primary consideration when designing and setting their school uniform policy.

By David Ayre - Policy team
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