24 Feb 2015

Parents have had enough of paying premium prices for school uniforms, a new report by The Children’s Society has found.

The report, The Wrong Blazer: Time for action on school uniform costs, reveals 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.

Much of the high cost can be chalked up to school uniform policies that make parents buy specific items of clothing and accessories from specialist shops – rather than allowing them to grab bargains from supermarkets and sew on a badge or logo later.

95% of parents believe they are expected to pay 'unreasonable' amount

A survey of 1000 parents carried out for the report found an overwhelming 95% of parents believe the amount they are expected to pay is 'unreasonable'.

The survey was commissioned to support the work of the Children’s Commission on Poverty, a panel of young people from across England whose investigation last year exposed the hidden costs of school in the state sector – and how difficult they make life for those in poverty.

Children whose parents cannot afford the price of special uniforms face the humiliation of punishment and bullying for not having exactly the right clothes or kit.

Cost of school uniforms

The new report finds that parents of secondary age children pay the most for school uniform, with shoes the most expensive item, costing £56 annually for each child. They are followed by coats and bags (averaging £55 per year) and sport shoes and boots (£47). Blazers are also pricey, with an average price tag of £42 for secondary school pupils.

Where parents have to buy from a specific supplier, costs are an average of £48 per year higher for secondary school children and £93 higher for primary school children, the report found. Other reasons for high costs include schools requiring many different items of uniform – including coats, different ties for different school years, and multiple items of sports kit.

Based on statistics from the Department for Education on numbers of pupils in state schools, The Children’s Society estimates that parents pay about £2.1 billion per year on school uniforms. That is £1.3 billion more than what parents say would be “reasonable”. And it is despite Government guidance which states that schools should keep the cost of school uniforms down.

Make uniforms more affordable

The report calls for action from Government to make sure uniforms are more affordable. Many low income families find the costs of school uniform a real struggle. Based on responses to the survey, The Children’s Society estimates 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. And more than half a million are living in families that have got into debt because of uniform costs.

The problem of rip-off school uniform policies is not confined to the financial burden on parents. For too many children, it has a real impact on their daily life and education.

The Children’s Society estimates that nearly 800,000 children go to school in ill-fitting uniform because their parents cannot afford to keep buying new items of the correct size. Meanwhile, 400,000 children whose parents could not afford the cost of uniform have been sent home for wearing items deemed to be ‘incorrect’. And a quarter of a million children have had their school chosen partly on account of the cost of the uniform.

It is these children who bear the brunt of school uniform policies which divide children into the haves and have-nots, in some cases leading to children facing bullying and embarrassment.

Create statutory guidance on school uniforms

The Children’s Society is calling on the Government to explore capping the cost of school uniforms to ensure that parents are not paying unreasonable costs, and make guidance on school uniforms statutory so schools have a legally binding commitment to keep uniforms affordable. 

Lily Caprani, Director of Policy and Strategy for The Children’s Society, said: 'Parents are fed up with paying the costs of stringent and prescriptive school uniform requirements that deprive them of the choice to shop around for prices they can afford. They are digging ever deeper into their pockets to pay for book bags and blazers when what they really want is for their children to receive a good education and a good start in life.

'We know that children whose parents cannot afford the cost of specialist uniforms face punishment and bullying for not having exactly the right clothes or kit. It’s time for the Government to introduce legally binding rules to stop schools from making parents pay over the odds for items available only at specialist shops.'

The report follows an in-depth investigation into the hidden costs of school – including uniform costs – 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, published last October, found these costs were not only affecting family finances, but also harming the well-being of the poorest children.

Uniforms 'a constant source of anxiety'

One parent told researchers: 'My oldest daughter, they sent her home and said she wasn’t allowed to come back until she had the correct shoes. So then I had to write a letter to say that we’ll be able to get some in a week or so, I didn’t have any money.'

Another described the 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.'


Media enquiries

For more information please contact The Children’s Society media team on 020 7841 4422 (office hours) or 07810 796 508 (out-of-hours) or email media@childrenssociety.org.uk.

Notes to editor

  • 3.7 million children in the UK live in poverty today (source). Six in 10 children living in poverty are in low-income working families (source). By 2020, an estimated three quarters of a million more children will be living in poverty than today according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (source).
  • The Children’s Society has helped change children’s stories for over a century. We expose injustice and address hard truths, tackling child poverty and neglect head-on. We fight for change based on the experiences of every child we work with and the solid evidence we gather. Through our campaigning, commitment and care, we are determined to give every child in this country the greatest possible chance in life.