Posted: 24 February 2015

Tackling the cost of school uniforms

Our new report, The Wrong Blazer: Time for action on school uniform costs, shows that the high cost of school uniforms has a real impact on the experience of hundreds of thousands of pupils across the country.

Over the past year and a half, the 16 young commissioners who make up The Children’s Commission on Poverty have conducted an in-depth inquiry into school costs. They found that for too many children, the cost of school uniforms has a real impact on their lives and their ability to make the most of their education – even to the point of having the school they attend chosen partly on the basis of the cost of school uniform.

The commission also found that while schools are expected to take full account of uniform guidance set by the Department for Education, they are not always following this guidance, if they are even aware of it in the first place. 

How much do families pay for school uniforms?

Families are forking out an average of £251 per year for each child at a state primary school and £316 for a child at a state secondary. In our survey of parents, 95% of parents told us they believe the amount they are expected to pay is ‘unreasonable’.

Much of the high cost can be attributed to school uniform policies that make parents buy specific items of clothing and accessories from specialist shops, rather than allowing them to buy them at a lower cost from supermarkets and sew on a badge or logo later. On average, parents spend £170 more than they think is reasonable annually for each child. Yet parents across the country could save as much as £1.3 billion annually if they faced reasonable school uniform costs.

We found this is making parents anxious.

One parent described cost of school uniform as 'a constant source of anxiety', adding: 'I am not ashamed of being poor but I always want my children to look as well cared-for as others. I go without so my children can always have what is needed'. 

What is the impact on children?

Our new survey found that nearly 800,000 children go to school in ill-fitting uniform, 400,000 have been sent home because of wearing incorrect uniform, and 250,000 children have had the school they attend chosen in part as a result of the cost of uniforms.

One parent we spoke to as part of the report told us about another parent: ‘Yeah, she was (a mother) keeping them off school because she couldn’t afford the uniform, she only had one set of uniform so it wasn't dry or clean enough for the next day for the children to go to school so she wouldn't send them’.

The extortionate cost of school uniform is forcing many parents to cut back on basic essentials to meet uniform costs. 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, and more than 500,000 are living in families that have got into debt as a result. 

How do we keep this a priority?

Addressing the spiralling costs of school uniforms needs to become a real priority for the government. Since the launch of The Children’s Commission on Poverty’s inquiry, we have pursued three particular recommendations made by the young commissioners:

  1. To make current guidance statutory so that schools have a legally binding commitment to keep uniforms affordable.
  2. To re-issue this guidance in order to remind schools of the requirement to ensure affordability is the top priority when setting uniform policy
  3. To explore the capping of school uniforms to ensure that parents are not paying unreasonable costs.

The Government needs to take action now so that, in future, children never have their education undermined by the costs of a uniform.

Children can’t afford to keep on losing out as a result of unaffordable school uniform costs.

Find out more about The Children's Commission on Poverty.

By Kanika Wotherspoon - Policy team