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Cost of school uniforms

Volume 675: debated on Monday 4 May 2020

The petition of residents of the United Kingdom,

Declares that there has been an overall increase in the cost of school uniforms; further that at the same time there has been an overall increase in the range of items now prescribed by schools; further that there has been an increase in the range of school-wear carrying school branding, removing the choice of lower cost alternatives; further that some schools have further limited parental choice by naming single approved suppliers; and further that these changes have put intolerable financial burdens on families already struggling with the cost of living.

The petitioners therefore requests that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring forward legislation to: limit the number of compulsory branded items of school-wear; ensure that all items are available from at least two suppliers; cap the total cost of compulsory items of school-wear.

And the petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by Emma Hardy, Official Report, 10 March 2020, Vol. 673, c. 248.]


Observations from the Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb):

The Government encourages schools to have a uniform, as it can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone. However, no school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to the school of their choice due to the cost of the uniform.

Decisions about school uniform, including how it is sourced, are a matter for a school’s governing body or academy trust. The Department for Education publishes best practice advisory guidance to support them in making these decisions. This guidance is clear that, when considering how the uniform should be sourced, schools should give highest priority to cost considerations and value for money for parents.

On 5 February, the hon. Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) introduced his Private Members’ Bill, the Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill. The Government are supporting the progress of this bill through Parliament in order to make our guidance on the cost considerations for school uniform statutory at the earliest opportunity.

At the second reading of the Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill, the Government made clear that, the starting point for any future statutory guidance on uniform costs would be the current non-statutory guidance on uniform cost considerations. The existing guidance is clear that the school uniform should be easily available for parents to purchase and that schools should keep branded items to a minimum. Exclusive single supplier contracts should be avoided unless regular tendering competitions are run and where best value for parents is secured.

Any future guidance, as is the case now, will encourage schools to be reasonable in their use of branded or bespoke uniform items and stress a considered use of suppliers underpinned by competitive tendering processes.

Whilst we sympathise with the aims of this petition—to reduce the burden of unreasonable school uniform costs for parents—we consider it important to uphold schools’ decision making in this area. This Government have been clear that it believes that uniform is a matter for schools, in light of their local circumstances and taking account of the views of parents and pupils. Therefore, any future statutory guidance on uniform cost will be respectful of schools’ decision making in this area, whilst seeking to ensure that schools take these decisions within a sensible framework which prioritises the issue of cost for families. The Government does not wish to dictate to schools a numerical limit on the number of branded items or a ban on single supplier contracts. Rather, it wishes to provide a robust framework that aids decision making at a local level.