13 Mar 2020

The cost of school uniforms is being driven up because over half of all parents have to buy at least two items from specialist suppliers, according to a new poll from The Children’s Society.

In a survey of 1,000 parents the charity found two thirds of parents (66%) with children in secondary school and more than half of primary school parents (52%) have to purchase two or more items from a specific shop. This is making a primary school uniform 50% more expensive than if parents had to buy no or just one specific item, going from around £248 to £375 per year. The cost of a secondary school uniform has risen by 26%, going from around £286 to £361.


The charity also found the price of school uniform is affecting which schools parents apply for. Based on responses to its survey, The Children’s Society estimates that for over half a million parents[1] uniform costs had an impact on their decision. This is particularly worrying given that the Schools Admission Code (statutory) guidance states that school uniform policies must not discourage parents from applying for a place.


Overall, parents responding to the survey said that they spent an average of around £337 on secondary school uniform each year. Parents of primary school children say they are now paying as much as £315 a year per child.


High uniform costs are putting additional strain on family finances. One in eight families (13%) reported they had cut back on food and other essentials because of uniform costs. For low income families the impact is even greater, with more than one in five (23%) saying they had to cut back.


Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:


“The prices parents have to pay for school uniforms are unacceptable and we were concerned to discover how many parents are forced to buy specific items from exclusive retailers. We very much support schools having a uniform but the principle of them is to make all students feel and look equal, they should prevent parents and children from being pressured into having to wear the “right” brands. These rigid and prescriptive school policies leave parents unable to buy cheaper alternatives that could save them hundreds of pounds and prevent money worries or debt.


“It’s shocking that parents are making decisions about where to send their child to school based on whether they can afford the uniform. Education is a basic human right and no state school should ever be out of reach for a child because of the cost of uniform and their family’s financial situation.”


For the child having the wrong uniform can seriously impact their school day. The survey showed that nearly a quarter (23%) of parents have had to send their child to school in ill-fitting, unclean or incorrect uniform. This can lead to children being bullied, feeling left out or even being excluded from school. In fact, The Children’s Society estimates that nearly half a million children[2] have actually been sent home from school for wearing incorrect uniform.


Many are being punished for wearing the wrong colour shoes or coats. Meghann Creffield, a mum of two from Brighton has seen her child punished because she could not afford the right polo shirt, she said:


“My son got a detention, he was wearing a plain white polo t-shirt and not the branded one, it was under his jumper but they still checked. I ended up contacting the school and explaining the situation. Kids should not be given detention because their parents can’t afford to buy something. It’s not anything to do with behaviour, it’s not right that the kids are punished for that.”


In 2015 the government promised to clamp down on uniform costs and make it a legal requirement for schools and their governors to make affordability the key component when setting their uniform policies. It re-iterated this commitment in 2019 prior to the General Election but claims it has not had the opportunity.


Today, this will change when MP for Weaver Vale, Mike Amesbury, presents his Bill, Education (Guidance about costs of school uniform) to the House of Commons. Earlier this year the Labour MP won the private members ballot giving him a chance to change the law. Mr Amesbury, who is the shadow Minister for Employment, is calling for schools uniform policies to ditch the need for branded and specialist items, allowing parents the choice to buy their uniforms from a wide range of more competitive retailers. He said:


“Many of my constituents have told me how they struggle to afford the high price of school uniforms and the pressure these costs put on an already tight family budget. I have heard the same story from other MPs and so know this is a national issue affecting thousands of families and children around the UK. I am delighted by the cross-party support I have already received and hope enough MPs turn up today to show their support. Together we have real chance and could do tremendous good and make a real difference to people who're struggling.”




Media enquiries 


For more information, please contact The Children’s Society’s media team on 0207 8414422 or email charlie.neal@childrenssociety.org.ukFor out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796508  


[1] Approximately 542,000. Numbers of children are calculated by applying the proportion of parents (6.7%) who said the cost of uniform had affected their choice of school for their child to the number of children in state maintained schools in England (8.1million), the number for which is based on Department for Education figures. 

2 Approximately 494,100 children. Numbers of children are calculated by applying the proportion of parents (6.1%) who said their children had been excluded from school for wearing incorrect uniform to the number of children in state maintained schools in England (8.1million), the number for which is based on Department for Education figures.