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The reality of school uniform costs

We know from speaking to young people that issues with school uniform can get in the way of a child enjoying school.  This is particularly the case for children from low-income families. That’s why we’re campaigning to cut the cost of uniforms. 

Amber-Page tells us about her experiences of school uniform, first as a child and later as a teacher. 

Published:

Doing the laundry

Looking smart

When I think of my childhood home, I’m in the kitchen, having a cup of tea, and the washing machine is on. The worktop is piled high with laundry. I was the oldest of four siblings, so mum worked tirelessly to get three different sets of uniform washed and dried. 

I was born when my mum was seventeen, still young enough to be in school herself. She put every bit of energy, and every spare penny, into making sure me and my siblings could aim as high as possible. To her, looking smart in our uniforms was a symbol of that.

young girl walks to school

school uniform quote

I didn’t take our clean uniforms for granted, as I could see first-hand the consequences of having an unwashed uniform.

My friend was repeatedly bullied. Raised by a single father, working long hours to make ends meet, he didn’t have the time to make sure she had a clean shirt every day. The girls at school would laugh at her, and say that she smelled bad. The shame spread to me as well – I was bullied just for being her friend.

Throwaway fashion

In our family, uniforms were crowd funded. Every year my grandparents would chip in for three pairs of new shoes. I remember being oddly thankful that I never really grew past year seven, so we didn’t have to replace my uniform annually. 

When my school turned into an Academy in Year Nine, a whole new uniform was expected. Families had worked hard to afford a good quality uniform – and now it had to be thrown away. Not something I imagine the school considered, when it wanted to rebrand itself, and us. 

Being a teacher

young boy holds parents hand on the way to school

Becoming a teacher

Ten years later, I was a Year Nine form tutor. I was living out my mum’s passion for education, teaching at a challenging secondary school in Peterborough. Many parents worked long shifts for low pay, and many pupils were young carers.

One student I taught regularly came to school in the morning with a bag packed with clothes, as they didn’t know where they would be staying from one night to the next. 

Here, uniforms were a constant subject of tension between staff and pupils. As a teacher I spent huge chunks of time completing uniform logs and issuing detentions, which could have been better spent building relationships with pupils. 

being a teacher

A student wearing the wrong uniform might be called out repeatedly throughout the day. Each confrontation would have a visible effect on their mood and attitude to learning. They may also face detention or being placed in isolation rooms.

Where a child is deliberately breaking the rules, consequences may seem reasonable. But for too many, uniform is just another aspect of their life that’s out of their control. A lot of them came to school without having had breakfast, never mind their school tie. They needed to be met at the gates with a sympathetic smile and a cereal bar, not a barked order to sort their uniform out. 

All children deserve to feel they belong at school, to learn and pursue their dreams without unnecessary barriers.

When children from low-income backgrounds suffer the consequences of uniform policies which do not prioritise their well-being, something needs to change. Making all uniforms affordable would be a huge step forwards.

Campaign update:

Thanks to our supporters, the School Uniforms Bill has passed through the House of Commons. If it gets through the House of Lords then it could become law before the start of the next school year.