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Big step for affordable school uniforms

After seven years of campaigning for affordable uniforms, the School Uniform Bill passed in Parliament in April. This new law means state schools in England will have to make cost a priority when setting uniform policies, and will make a difference for many families struggling with unfair, expensive uniforms.  

Alicia, 18, shares her school uniform story and why she has been fighting for this campaign. 

Published:

The perfect uniform

girl sits at desk in class wearing school uniform

Changing stripes

When I started secondary school - the first thing I noticed about the uniform was all the stripes.

The striped blazers, which were only available in one shop, in the middle of nowhere, miles from school, cost over £100. The striped blouses started to fade with every wash. By year eight, you could see who could, and who couldn’t, afford to buy a new set of £30 blouses by whose yellow stripes were brightest. 

Keeping a perfect uniform was stressful as well as expensive - with daily inspections at the school gates. Having had the same skirt for five years, I was made to kneel on the ground to show it was too short, and ordered to replace it, even in the last months of year eleven. How can you tell someone standing over you, with a finger waving in your face, that £30 is just too much for a new skirt? 

fighting for young people

I was the only student in my form who was on free school meals. In my first years of school, when I wasn’t as confident as I am now, it was easy to feel ashamed of my faded, bought-too-big uniform. Since then, my experiences as a young carer and a low income kid have inspired me to fight for change.  

I’m fighting for young people that don’t have the chance to speak up.

woman in colourful clothes smiling at camera

The effects of child poverty?

There are millions of children in poverty. Many come through it and achieve great things. However, it's not easy. Sleeping in a cold bedroom, studying on an empty stomach, missing out on trips with mates. Young people from poor backgrounds have to fight harder for their future. 

No suit needed 

In March 2020 I spent a week’s work experience with The Children’s Society. I noticed no one was wearing the suit, tie and polished loafers my school had led me to expect was essential to career success. I was thrilled to hear that on the agenda would be a visit to the House of Commons to see the School Uniforms Bill be debated. I hadn’t set foot in Parliament before. 

The unusual quietness of Westminster on that day was a sign of things to come - as the national lockdown happened one week later. It’s been a challenging year for positive political change to happen, with so much else on the agenda.

Every step of the way, I’ve supported the #CutTheCost campaign, including writing to Jacob Rees-Mogg to ask him to keep the Bill on the table. This was successful, and after lockdown delay the Bill came back in March and was finally made law in April 2021. 

Fighting to be heard

campaigners outside parliament holding placards

Fighting to be heard

Young people should be able to fight for the issues that matter to them, and be listened to by those with power. The #CutTheCost campaign began with a group of young people who shone a light on the issue, and its success will now go on to help thousands of children across England.

This shows how powerful youth voice can be. 

Child poverty

The new law will not solve everything overnight. Child poverty is a much bigger issue than just uniforms - as Marcus Rashford has demonstrated through his fight for free school meals. I’ve also been recently inspired by the students of Pimlico Academy who stood up against a uniform policy that ruled against Afro hairstyles and colourful hijabs. 

There’s still a way to go before every young person feels at home in their schools and their uniforms - but I’ll always be proud to have played a part in this big step forwards. 

Alicia is a champion for young carers and has campaigned with us, The British Youth Council and the #iwill Campaign. 
 

young woman on megaphone in crowd of others campaigning

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