David Laws: Time to end overpriced school uniforms

School UniformsLiberal Democrat Schools Minister David Laws has announced he is to revamp guidance on school uniforms to help schools cut costs for parents.

With family budgets squeezed, Laws believes schools should place more emphasis on value for money for parents when choosing new uniforms. He will urge schools to end the practice of using a single uniform supplier, which stops parents from shopping around to find the best deal.

The new guidance, to be issued by the Department for Education tomorrow, will ask governing bodies to:

  • Avoid exclusive single supplier contracts except when regular tendering competitions are run, in which more than one supplier can compete for the contract, and where best value can be secured.
  • Not enter into ‘cash back’ arrangements.
  • Not insist that pupils wear expensive items of uniform.
  • Not make frequent changes to uniform specifications.
  • Seek to select items that can be purchased cheaply, for example in a supermarket or other good value shop.
  • Keep compulsory branded items to a minimum.

An Office of Fair Trading investigation in 2012 found three quarters of schools placed restrictions on where uniforms could be bought. At a typical price difference of £5 between an item bought from a single supplier and a supermarket, the report suggested that parents of school age children lose out on a total of £52 million each year.

The revamped guidance, which schools are expected to follow, will say that schools should consider best value for parents and should seek parents’ views before changing a school uniform.

David Laws said:

Costs at the start of a school term can quickly add up, particularly for families with several school age children.  School uniforms can be an important sign of identity and pride, but at a time when many family budgets are squeezed parents should not be forced to spend more than they need to.

We will send a strong signal to schools that it is vital to secure value for money for parents before changing or introducing new school uniforms. Parents need to be able to shop around to find the best deal. I want to see fewer schools using single suppliers and branded items, which keep costs unnecessarily high.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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11 Comments

  • kathryn suter 15th Sep '13 - 11:02am

    With reference to the request for schools to reduce the cost of school uniform, please please do not guide people to use huge greedy supermarket chains for the purchase of everything. Please don’t try to close more local shops, businesses and ruin more towns and villages. Please encourage manufacturing in Britain and not try to get rid of it.
    Thank you

  • This is great thinking and long overdue. But why bother with uniforms at all? All through the time my kids were at school we were constantly told that parents love school uniforms. We were never asked what we thought of them. I deeply resented having to send my kids out in overpriced poor quality clothes to suit the school’s rules.

  • I’m a single parent, with 3 children, in two different schools. My infants school changed heads a while back and the first thing she did was to stop selling school branded clothes, and let the business off to a private shop 10 miles from the school. The prices went up from 7.50 to 11.00 for a basic jumper. Our adjoining Junior school still sells it’s own school kit, which is cheaper than the infants, and a lot more convenient, and the profits go to the school where my other two children go. Our schools do allow the children to wear basic uniform as long as the colours are correct.

    As a single parent, I was given some school clothing vouchers, by HCC. These were worth 25.00 each, and I was given 3. I was stunned to find none of the high street shops would take them, so I could not buy any of the basic uniform my children needed. I was expected to go only to the uniform shop, or the school, when a couple of years ago these vouchers were excepted in all the supermarkets where you can buy unbranded uniform cheaply.

    My MP is J Arbuthnot, who is looking into this for me, but maybe David Laws could add the uniform grant system to his brief.

    John Graham

  • Robert Eggleston 15th Sep '13 - 12:27pm

    Whilst no objection to more choice in supply and value for money we do need to be concerned about thevethics of this. Cheapest often means that there is exploitation at the start of the supply chain. Liberals should not be in the business of encouraging purchasing which means the clothes we buy are the product of exploited labour. Allying the policy to a commitment to Fairtrade and fair trading is equally important.

  • School uniforms must be purchased at *any* cost! Where would we be without school uniforms? Uniformitarianism of attire breeds uniformitarianism of thought. The last thing we want our schools to be doing is encouraging students to think for or express themselves in ways that go against the dominant establishment. The only problem I have with school uniform is the design — they should be bright orange jumpsuits (for ease of identification of escaped students) with prominently stenciled identification numbers on the front and back.

  • Peter Watson 15th Sep '13 - 4:19pm

    I love the report in The Observer on this which reports Laws’ announcement that the government would “crack down on schools that force parents to buy over-priced uniforms” by “providing new guidance to urge them to end the practice”. Maybe the government should take a similar strong approach to crack down on chemical weapons by providing new guidance to Syria.

  • John Graham 15th Sep '13 - 5:33pm

    School uniforms were introduced make all children, advantaged, and disadvantaged look the same, so there was no discrimination. In my day [60’s] my mother had to save for a plain black blazer, and bought a sew on badge for my school.

    Nowadays, everyone is expected to buy embroidered school ware, which costs a lot more than the plain school ware available from the high street stores. What is wrong with turning the clock back to the 60’s sew on badges so families can buy the kit from the cheaper outlets, and then the children would not have the stigma of not having correctly badged uniform.

    I sometimes think the voice of the people on benefits is ignored, as we are all branded as scroungers. I’ve worked since I was 15, and paid my fair share so I’m no scrounger. But I do feel let down constantly, and this problem over school uniforms has really annoyed me.

    John Graham

  • Steve Griffiths 15th Sep '13 - 9:25pm

    One of the few times in recent years when I’ve found myself in agreement with David Laws. Why don’t we just end the compulsory wearing of school uniform all together?

  • @John Graham — Sure, I know — allowing children to wear their *own clothes* to school? That’s just crazy talk! Who in the world does *that*?

    I’m not sure if it’s discrimination by teachers or by other pupils that the uniforms are supposed to prevent, but I suspect there are far more serious forms of discrimination than discrimination-by-clothing that go on every day.

    If the fear is that pupils will wear something that would be outrageously disruptive in a classroom, then a code could be required that would allow pupils or their parents to pick their own clothing within a specific range (e.g., no bare chests, no legs bare above the knee) without requiring special colours or badges.

  • Lets get thing clear. I’m not against school uniforms. I think they are an important part of the school life, of every child. My children like their uniforms.

    My problem was the worthless 25 pound clothing vouchers I was given by HCC. Because I could not get anything for them, I used our limited savings to buy my children new school clothes to the value of the vouchers, and returned them to HCC with 3 receipts. I was told I would not get my money back, but after involving my local MP, the money is being reimburse, but I’m told next year this will not be done.

    This is why I posted on this tread, because I think this voucher system needs reforming, so the poorest families in the UK can be allowed to buy where they like, and not only where you get the poorest value.

    If you have never tried to bring up 3 young children on very limited budget, you will have no appreciation of how we have to make ends meet.

  • You know what I think, the Board of Education should better focus on improving the level of education. Who cares what kids are wearing when they cannot write without grammar and punctuation mistakes? I personally do not care (by the way, do not forget they we live in a highly developed and democratic country) about kids cloths. From one side it is being done to make everybody look equal as kids can be pretty cruel to each other. From another side far from many families can afford new expensive uniform. So focus on improving English Language ([Advert for coursework service removed by moderator]) and Math firs of all!

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