My Lords, I pay tribute to my honourable friend Mike Amesbury for steering the Bill through the Commons unscathed and with such strong cross-party and, indeed, government support. I also pay tribute to the Children’s Society and the children and parents with whom it has worked for their pivotal role, reflecting the impetus provided by the Children’s Commission on Poverty. I am grateful to the Government Whips for making this Second Reading possible and to the Minister for meeting with me at short notice.
This is a modest Bill, which simply imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance, in place of the current voluntary guidance, on cost aspects of school uniforms. It is important to emphasise at the outset that it is in no way anti-school uniform; the strong support in the Commons from MPs across the House who expressed their belief in uniforms bears testimony to that. In its focus on affordability and value for money, the Bill, through statutory guidance, strengthens the case for uniforms, as there is no better recruiting agent against uniforms than the inability of too many parents to afford them. This is particularly timely, as we know from a wide range of research that many families are really struggling a year into the pandemic.
There is some disagreement as to the actual average cost of uniforms, which may well be reflected in briefings received. This is in part a question of different methodologies, but I hope that we will not get hung up on these differences. What matters is this, to quote Christopher Chope MP, one of the Bill’s more critical interrogators:
“We know that there are people for whom the current cost of school uniforms are a significant burden”.—[Official Report, Commons, 12/3/21; col. 1178.]
This Bill aims to reduce that burden, described as “crippling” by one parent in CPAG’s Cost of the School Day project, which highlighted the cost of compulsory branded items in particular.
The Competition and Markets Authority has twice drawn attention to school uniform costs, most recently in a 2019 letter to the Education Secretary, which concluded that statutory guidance would be
“the simplest and most direct way of delivering change.”
Research by the Children’s Society, conducted before the pandemic, shows that many parents struggle to afford the costs of school uniforms. Its survey of 1,000 parents found that one in five families from lower-income backgrounds cut back on food and other essentials because of uniform costs. Nearly sone in five reported borrowing money from someone else because of these costs. Nearly a quarter said that the cost of the school uniform had meant that their child had worn ill-fitting, unclean or incorrect uniform.
The research also documented some of the damaging consequences for children. Wearing the wrong uniform can lead to children being bullied, feeling left out or even being sent home from school, which can mean them missing out on education or on fully participating in school life, because their parents cannot afford to buy specific uniform items. One parent reported:
“My daughter has requested I write a letter saying she is injured in order to miss PE as she had lost her socks and I couldn’t afford to replace them (so I had asked her to tell the teacher and ask if she could borrow some from lost property). My daughter would rather have skipped PE (which she enjoys) than possibly be overheard by one of her peers and risk the embarrassment of being poor.”
CPAG’s research found that children had been picked on and laughed at. I know from my own work on poverty how devastating the shame it engenders can be, particularly for children.
At Third Reading in the Commons, the Minister made clear his
“intention to engage with representatives of schools, parents and other interested parties”,
which I understand rightly includes the Children’s Society,
“in drafting and finalising the statutory guidance.”—[Official Report, Commons, 12/3/21; col. 1181.]
He gave some indication of the lines being developed therein. I look to the Minister to do the same today and would welcome an assurance that any future iterations of the guidance will be subject to similar consultation.
I also press the Minister on timing, as it is vital that the consultation be completed within a specific timeframe, so that the guidance can be implemented at the earliest possible date. The Act is due to come into force two months after the day on which it is passed. We need the guidance to come into effect for this September, so that parents can begin to benefit from the new policy as soon as possible. That said, I realise that this could create difficulties. In the Commons, the Minister advised that the guidance would not require schools to drastically change policy this September. Could the Minister clarify what this means, please?
I make it clear that introduction of the statutory guidance in time for the new school year should not mean an overnight overhaul of uniform policies that could see existing items suddenly in breach of the new policies. Rather, I believe that implementing the guidance from September, but allowing a suitable grace period, where voluntary practice is not already followed, should allow time to adapt to the changes that so many families desperately need.
I was delighted to be asked to sponsor the Bill in your Lordships’ House because, being aware of the burden created for parents on low incomes by costly school uniforms, I have from time to time asked what happened to the Government’s 2015 commitment to put the school uniform guidance on a statutory footing. The response has always been that they had to wait for a suitable legislative opportunity. Finally, over five years later, this Bill provides such an opportunity and it is good to work with the Government in trying to ensure that it reaches the statute book.
At the risk of sounding like a government Minister, I urge noble Lords to resist any temptation to improve the Bill through amendments. I am sure that it could be improved but, if it were, we would risk losing it altogether, because time is so tight before the end of this Session. Instead, I encourage noble Lords to press the Minister for such assurances on the record as we might need to ensure that the guidance is all that we want it to be. The debates in the Commons were very positive and I am sure that they will be in this House also. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the editor of the Good Schools Guide. I thoroughly support this Bill and congratulate the noble Baroness on having been chosen to bring it through this House. I also thoroughly support school uniforms. As doubtlessly many others will say, they are a leveller, they stop competition among children to show their parents’ wealth through choice of uniform items, they give a strong identity to the school and they help children to realise that a different set of rules—a different way of doing things—applies within school. As long as the cost is reasonable and the quality is good, they should absolutely be supported.
The originator of the Bill, and the Government, are getting things right. A second-hand shop is important, specification is important and a competitive process for finding a supplier is important. All that I ask is that the DfE commits that, should a major revision of guidance be proposed in the future, it will conduct a thorough assessment of the impacts, economic and otherwise, on children, parents, schools and uniform suppliers before bringing it in. We have an excellent system in this country for providing school uniform. We must be sure that the people involved have a prosperous and effective future in front of them.
My Lords, this sensible and small Bill had an easy ride through the Commons and hopefully will through this House, too. The number of speakers seems overkill for one small cause; it is difficult to see how 21 speakers will each have different things to say about the Bill, but I am quite sure that your Lordships will find a way.
When I was a teacher, I was hugely supportive of school uniforms. They gave cohesion to the school and meant that there was no competition for who was wearing the most expensive clothes. Curiously, when I taught in Germany, where school uniforms seemed not to exist, the youngsters with the wealthiest parents aimed to look the scruffiest—at least, the boys did. Where you knew that the father was an extremely well-paid surgeon or lawyer, the lad would arrive at school looking like something that the cat had brought in.
One of my daughters, aged eight, had a year at a school with no uniform. The time spent every morning discussing what was and was not appropriate for her to wear to school was quite draining. I was relieved when her next school had a uniform and we could dispense with the pre-school fashion ritual. The key factor must be cost. These days, most state schools opt for items easily bought at high street shops as cheaply as possible, given that children sometimes grow surprisingly quickly.
I really felt for what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said. I was horrified to read the estimate that nearly half a million children have been sent home from school because the costs meant that they were wearing incorrect uniform. This cannot be right. Schools should be encouraged to be understanding, even as they wish to uphold standards and pride in the school. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said, it is valuable if schools have second-hand shops for uniforms and/or a hardship fund, but uniforms will often be outgrown before they are outworn and thrift shops for disadvantaged children could be a lifesaver. Might this be at least in guidance, if not on the face of the Bill?
Why does the proposed new Section 1(5)(e) read,
“a pupil referral unit not established in a hospital”?
I taught in a hospital school many years ago. Many of the pupils are not there for long, so uniform for the hospital school would not make sense, but would allowing them to wear the uniform of the school that they had left perhaps encourage a learning culture? I was there to teach a stick-like, very bright anorexic girl, but some of the other pupils were young thugs, exceedingly threatening and ill-disciplined. Might their behaviour have been tempered by school uniforms? Uniforms are helpful in ensuring the community aspect of a school—the belonging and the being part of a team. They are valued by teachers, parents and pupils. I fully support the Bill and wish it a speedy passage, hopefully before the start of the next school year, as we heard, although earlier would be even better.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of a number of all-party parliamentary groups concerned with the welfare of children. I will not spend time on the cornerstone merits of the Bill, except to say that I completely associate myself with the remarks made by noble Lords on all sides of this House in support of the measure. The Bill provides the potential for high-quality uniforms at an affordable price for all parents. The points about the advantages of uniform have been well made. Uniforms serve a central and important function in education. They create a sense of belonging, pride, consistency, focus and personal discipline. Above all, as has been said, they are levellers.
I know from a lifetime in sport the excitement and the cohesive and levelling effect that receiving a well-designed kit can bring to a school or an Olympic team, but we must keep the cost of school uniform to a minimum, to ensure that it acts as a leveller without shifting difficult and often soul-destroying decisions into homes for those facing unenviable financial choices at the beginning of a new school year. While school uniforms help to remove the inequalities caused by differences, the costs can place the same families who benefit at the disadvantage of tough financial decisions behind closed doors. School uniform grants should be available for those most in need of support.
Physical education and sport is one of my major interests, and in the context of the Bill we are still not in a situation where sufficient consideration is given to the design of what I would term inclusive and acceptable PE kit for girls in schools. Today I seek just one assurance from my noble friend the Minister in this context: to take the proposal by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, further.
The year 2020 will be remembered in years to come as much for Covid as for being a transition year for transformation in the digital world, with online communication matched by a leap forward in online product and service provision. As we enter a new decade, we are starting to see previously hyped digital capabilities beginning to reshape the way in which we experience the world as both individuals and organisations, and what the implications could be for business.
I encourage the Government to support the Bill by placing their technical experts at the heart of the consultation exercise. Why? Because critical to many parents are the second-hand shops, many of which today will seem Victorian in their appearance to future generations. User-generated content and better service can all be integrated into modern-day versions of online second-hand shops. Specific families can be prioritised by the school. Families should have immediate access to all uniform that comes on to the secondary market from a well-designed facility allowing online access and specific systems for the school to communicate directly with, for example, those families who do not have access to IT or are in financial hardship.
The Bill is welcome and important. I hope it now makes rapid progress towards enactment.
My Lords, I praise my noble friend Lady Lister, not just for moving the Bill but for her fantastic social policy work over decades. Nearly one-quarter of parents say that the cost of a school uniform means that their child has worn ill-fitting, unclean or incorrect uniform, leading to cases of bullying, feeling left out or even being excluded from school through no fault of their own. It has been estimated that nearly half a million children have been sent home from school because the costs involved meant they were wearing incorrect uniform.
I congratulate the Labour Welsh Government on introducing in 2018 their pupil development grant access funding to help families cover the costs of school uniforms, sports kit and IT equipment, as well as equipment for activities outside school, including sports clubs and trips for outside learning. That funding goes directly to the families who need it most. The Welsh Government introduced new statutory guidance in 2019, providing advice for governing bodies and head teachers on issues relating to school uniform policy. Governing bodies are expected to consider ways of keeping down the costs of uniforms, which could include stipulating basic items and colours but not styles, meaning that items could be bought from more than one outlet. Schools are also expected to consider whether school logos are strictly necessary and if they should apply to just one item of uniform or be provided free of charge. I ask the Minister to look carefully at this admirable Welsh initiative.
However, the truth is that even if the Bill passes, as I hope it will, school uniforms will still be an unaffordable expense for too many. Uniform dress codes often involve a badge, sweatshirt and dark trousers and, typically, shirts, ties, blazers and PE kits, indoor and out, all branded and often available from only a single supplier. In some areas, more than half of children live in poverty, the number rising year on year, and that is before the terrible impact of Covid-19. In such areas, as many as one-fifth of children have been sent home for wearing incorrect uniform as a result of being unable to afford the uniform specified by the school. In some cases, children miss school altogether because either they or their parents feel ashamed of the condition of the uniform that they could not afford. Tragically, too many families wanting their children to go on school trips have to choose between those trips and either feeding them properly or paying for uniforms.
We have to make guidance on affordable uniforms a statutory duty, as it is in Wales. I therefore ask the Government to provide generous funding to implement the Bill and speed it to Royal Assent.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hain. I very much agree with him about the dangers of single-supplier contracts. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, on championing this legislation in your Lordships’ House—she is a doughty campaigner, as I know—and I congratulate the honourable Member for Weaver Vale in the other place.
This is a sensible piece of legislation. I am very pro-school-uniform; it is a great leveller at school, properly adopted, and it lends an individual school identity and esprit de corps. These are very laudable matters.
The Bill is supportive of school uniform. It places a duty on the Secretary of State to issue statutory guidance on the cost aspects of school uniform in England. I certainly do not intend to table an amendment but I ask in passing why private schools are not covered in this legislation. I am sure I will be given some technical reason why they cannot be covered but I am not sure I would be convinced by that. There are, after all, scholarship pupils at private schools some of whose parents will struggle with the cost, and I cannot see why they should be exempted from this law.
I also look forward to my noble friend the Minister saying something about keeping compulsory branded items to a minimum and restricting single-supplier contracts, which should be limited. We are a party that believes in competition, and surely sweetheart deals run counter to that unless there is some special justification. I can see that on occasion there may be, but I look forward to hearing how they provide real value for money on occasion. I also recognise that many—indeed, most—school suppliers do an excellent job.
As I say, this is a welcome measure that will help to end the unacceptable position of some children being unhappy going to school because their parents are unable to afford the correct items, with fresh items often needed year after year. I too strongly support second-hand shops; they are appropriate not just because of the cost aspect but because of cutting down on waste, provided of course that we are able to do that in a Covid-secure way.
I support the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, when she says that the statutory guidance should be issued sooner rather than later. In the other place the Government were somewhat opaque on that important question. I appreciate that we may not be able to give a precise date but I hope we are able to bring this in by September and have some effect on school uniform for the next school year. That would be very desirable.
I strongly welcome the Bill and the Government’s sensible response.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, and I agree with everything that he said. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for introducing the Bill with such feeling. It is an important Bill, albeit a small one, because the happiness of so many children and their families rests upon it.
I well remember, and it is a long time ago now, the trauma of having to get my school uniform for the new grammar school that I was to attend. There was a sole supplier, and it was a major hit to family finances. Beyond that, it was also traumatic to have to purchase a garment known as a gym romper, the most ungainly imaginable piece of clothing, which was not only unflattering but deeply unsuitable for the gym lessons for which it was intended—and of course it was expensive, being from a sole supplier. I cannot see why most items of school uniform should not come from the high street, where we have extraordinarily competitive prices now, and I hope they will continue to be so.
I think school uniform serves a very useful purpose. It is a leveller, as others have said, although there will always be those children who find a way of customising their outfits. Of course, it is also said that school uniform gives children an identity with their particular school and that will not be achieved if everyone is dressed from the high street, but surely one or two items of clothing would be sufficient to do that. I would have thought that a badge and tie, which could perhaps be commissioned by the school itself and sold by the school, were enough to enable a blazer to be turned into a distinctive garment to give the children the identity that is required.
I am uncomfortable with the idea of sole suppliers. As the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, said, it really goes against the ethos of competition which we try to stimulate. I understand that there are in our high street retailers which depend on being sole suppliers to local schools and I have a degree of sympathy for them, but they cannot expect to have a sinecure for life. I therefore hope that when the Government come up with their guidance, they will be firm that these sole suppliers have to be phased out. On that note, I thank the House.
My Lords, I congratulate the Government on listening to the importance of these measures and on accelerating the Bill, which has already passed through the Commons, through our House. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who may not realise that her work at the Child Poverty Action Group, in the late 1970s, inspired me when I was working on pensioner poverty for my PhD. She was somebody I looked up to then in policy terms, and I still do.
I also congratulate the Children’s Society on the work it has done, including pointing out that one in 10 families get into debt and one in eight cut back on food and essentials because of the cost of school uniform. The Children’s Commission on Poverty has explained that this can be a really damaging factor in families. It is time that we had legislation because the non-statutory guidance has clearly not been sufficient to address this issue.
It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and my noble friend Lord Bourne, whose comments I fully associate myself with. Affordability and value for money are vital for children, as well as parents. I recall how my own parents struggled with the cost of our uniform, which was available only from a monopoly supplier. There was no second-hand supply, and I am delighted that there have been recent moves for second-hand uniform. I am, however, in favour of uniform. It promotes inclusion and pride in belonging to a community, but if affordability is not addressed it can breed stigmatisation and marginalisation as well. The uniform may be pristine when new but if it needs replacing and parents cannot afford to do so, again, the child will suffer.
I welcome the Bill. I hope and expect that it will be accelerated through the House. I also echo the calls for the statutory guidance to be issued well in time. Perhaps my noble friend could reassure the House that the department will work as hard as it possibly can to get this in before the September school year starts.
My Lords, I speak in my capacity as chair of the National Society, and thus lead bishop in the Church of England for education. In principle, uniform is a fantastic leveller: it can foster unity and provides an opportunity for students to worry less about the challenges of fitting in. It is therefore worrying to find that the cost of uniforms is instead causing division by highlighting disparities. Having poverty- aware uniform policies means that we can avoid worsening the disadvantages that a child in poverty is already faced with. We must return uniforms to being beneficial, which the Bill will do. The Bill has my support, as it would ensure that all families can afford uniforms.
My own region, the north-east, has the worst rates of child poverty in the country. This unacceptable poverty makes the life prospects of many children heartbreaking. Through the disproportionate struggles this region has faced, many lessons have been learned about school uniforms. There is, for example, the community school clothing scheme, established by a local woman and stocking pre-loved uniforms for over 400 schools across the region for the last four years. There is also the “Faith in our communities” initiative, which provides schools with clothing banks. We can learn from North Tyneside Council’s poverty intervention fund; its school clothing vouchers cover the costs of unbranded essentials, such as coats and shoes.
The move to avoid expensive uniforms should be balanced by ensuring that it does not result in suppliers using forced or cheap labour. It is vital that we ensure that the ethical sourcing of clothing is part of the consideration, too. Can the Minister reassure me on this point?
Following work by the Children’s Society, which I commend strongly for all its work on the Bill, many dioceses have been pushing on these very issues, especially through their academies. In the north-east, some Church of England schools are now working with Etika uniforms on supplying fairly traded school uniforms. Subsidies are provided where there is an extra cost above less ethically sourced supermarket equivalents. This is not made a requirement but is offered as an affordable and ethical option. I also want to ask the Minister about the inclusion of public-private schools, as asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth.
Schools should be places of opportunity. We must not allow school uniforms to mean that sending your child to school is a burden rather than a blessing to low-income families. I therefore give my wholehearted support to this Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for introducing this useful Bill today. On the whole, I welcome it and am happy that the Government are supporting it. I am a firm believer in the value of school uniforms. They are a great leveller and remove the temptation for some children, whose parents have bought them unnecessarily expensive and supposedly fashionable clothes, to show off their wardrobes in front of other pupils whose parents cannot afford such items.
I have seen my grandchildren trying on their new school uniforms and observed the pride and loyalty they engender in the school that they attend. My 12 year-old grandson, who attends a state school in north London, says that his uniform helps him spot other pupils from his school on the train or bus, and that he can approach them if he feels threatened or needs help.
Uniforms foster a sense of identity between pupil and school, and this encourages hard work. Their reputations rise or fall together with those of the school that pupils attend. It is also a mistake to remove branded items from school uniforms to save costs. No-brand uniforms weaken the identity of the school and reduce the incentive to maintain a uniform in pristine condition. One of my granddaughters attends a state primary school in south London. Her mother tells me that the basic uniform items cost less than those shown in the study produced by the Schoolwear Association but that all in—including bags, PE kit and shoes—it costs around £300 a year. I also have two grandchildren who attend private schools; their equivalent costs are around £600 to £650 a year.
The Government’s non-statutory guidance, last updated in 2013, has been only partially effective. I agree that it would be good to make it statutory. Schools should be free to adopt single-supplier policies, especially in the case of smaller schools, where the total quantity required does not warrant more than one supplier. They should, however, adopt a regular and robust open-tender process. Lastly, can my noble friend the Minister say whether the Government intend to use our newly gained freedom from the EU’s VAT regime to exempt school uniforms, which would be enormously helpful?
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lady Lister on sponsoring this Bill in our House. She has spent her life campaigning on social inequalities and is a true expert on this, so I thank her. I also thank the Member of Parliament for Weaver Vale, who persuaded the House of Commons to pass this Bill. My speech would not be complete if I did not commend the Government for the openness and flexibility they have shown in dealing with the Bill. I hope they will retain that openness and listen to some of the ideas that have emanated from noble Lords. I feel privileged to speak in this debate; this is an important issue that, as we know, affects thousands—indeed, millions—of individuals.
My experience means that I agree with the many noble Lords who have argued today that they are unhappy about sole—or, as they are sometimes called, exclusive—suppliers. I agree with them because my observation has been that, where there is a sole supplier, the cost of school uniforms shoots up. That is not only my experience: the surveys all show a considerable increase in the cost of school uniforms when one outlet has a monopoly. We need competition in this field.
The Minister in the House of Commons indicated that he is not persuaded by banning exclusive supplier status. I wonder if he would be prepared to be open and test that. Would the Government commission a survey comparing the costs of school uniforms in areas that have sole supplier status with those where choice is available? Once he gets that information, can he then look at the subject again?
Finally, will the Government look at the possibility of ensuring that schools are required to sell school badges in order that these can be sewn on to garments for school uniforms? I think that that would also help to reduce prices.
My Lords, I certainly support this Bill, encouraging as it does a reduction in costs—but it would be better to get rid of school uniforms. They are an outmoded idea and, ultimately, a repressive aspect of the education system itself, designed to keep children in line. They are, in effect, part of the wider educational policy working against a child-centred approach to education.
No school has to have a school uniform; nevertheless, the Government do not take a neutral stance on this, strongly recommending that schools have one. Moreover, in its guidance, the department states that the school uniform policy
“flows from the duties placed upon all governing bodies by statute to ensure that school policies promote good behaviour and discipline amongst the pupil body.”
I am fortunate in being able to send my daughter, who is now 16, to a school without a uniform. This is fortunate in the UK because it is the norm in all countries in Europe, barring ourselves, Ireland and Malta. My daughter has given me a quotation for this debate: “Thank God I don’t have to wear a school uniform; I wouldn’t be able to express myself every day.” Her words have a particular resonance at the moment, when school is the only time that children are seeing each other in person.
School is where you spend most of your time as a young person, with your friends and peers. It is the right place for teenagers in particular to test out what to wear and find their own style—that is, in itself, an important part of education. Parents will in any case have to buy the clothes that their children wear outside school; we do not live in the 1950s anymore. Children cannot wait to be out and about post-Covid, including going to parties. Young people wishing to wear the latest designer clothes is something that, to an extent, happens anyway, so why try to sweep that under the carpet and pretend it does not exist for most of the time children spend in school?
Perhaps, with the increased competition between schools encouraged by government, it is school uniforms that have increasingly become the luxury designer clothing item: the additional, in my view unnecessary, cost, which has little to do with education but everything to do with status. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, last year’s survey by the Children’s Society points out that
“nearly a quarter ... of parents said that the cost of school uniform had meant their child had worn ill-fitting, unclean or incorrect uniform.”
It has always been the case that you can tell who the poorest children are, and it is particularly easy to do so with school uniforms. They are not a means of levelling up—otherwise, we would not have this Bill.
Whereas over 90% of schools in England insist on school uniforms, a much lower percentage of parents—around 67%—are in favour of them. There is increasing school uniform scepticism, and the Government and schools should listen to those voices.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, on sponsoring this Bill in your Lordships’ House, and I particularly pay tribute to Mike Amesbury, the Member for Weaver Vale in the other place, who introduced it. If it becomes law, it is a great achievement, particularly for an Opposition Member.
I am afraid that I have to disagree pretty much wholeheartedly with the previous speaker, the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, as I consider uniforms to be a great leveller. In my travels around the world, I have certainly seen the pride that children have in their uniforms, particularly in Africa. I cannot see how allowing children to show off their designer clothes helps that levelling.
As a past devotee of Private Member’s Bills in the other place, and as a long-time Friday Whip, I know that time is of the essence and so brevity must be the order of the day. I commend this Bill as a model example of what a Private Member’s Bill should be. I also echo the entreaties of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that we should try not to make improvements to it at this late stage. It is welcome legislation that I sincerely hope will make it on to the statute book.
As I said earlier, I am a believer in the undoubted merits of school uniforms, but I recognise that the cost can be a great burden for many, especially when you think that children may well grow out of some items very rapidly. Providing uniforms for your children can quickly become a nightmare for many.
Any guidance produced as a result of the Bill must ensure that affordability is at the heart of any contracts that schools sign up to with suppliers. However, the guidance must also consider whether schools will have sole suppliers of badged or branded items. We have heard about that a lot, and I agree with those who have advocated keeping the numbers of those items to a minimum.
However, the position of retailers, who, let us face it, have had a pretty difficult 12 months, must also be considered in the mix, as parents will always want to have quick access to stock in various sizes. However, holding stock is a costly business for retailers—I speak as someone who was heavily involved in my family retail business more than 30 years, although we never stocked school wear.
Governing bodies should—and, I believe, do—ensure that price is key to the granting of contracts to suppliers. I also echo the words of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who said that steps should be taken to ensure that, in the interests of affordability, transparency in supply chains is maintained, and that no issues regarding modern slavery arise. However, I am sure that a reasonable balance can be achieved, and, with that in mind, I wish the Bill a speedy passage through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, this must be the shortest Bill that I have debated—yet it is really welcome and should help large families and those on lower incomes. Like other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for bringing it to this House.
When I started primary school, over 60 years ago, none of us wore a uniform; it was not until we went to secondary school that we wore a basic grey skirt and a white shirt with a tie. At 11, I was proud of it, and, by the time I left, I was fairly rebellious. As my noble friend Lady Garden of Frognal has said, there is no discussion of what to put on in the morning and no comparison of who is wearing what.
A generation later, when our son went to the local village school—it was a village with quite a high level of poverty—not everyone wore the simple uniform; it was not an issue and that was just the way it was. The school to which he moved a few years later had a uniform —it is the same now as it was then: dark trousers or skirt and white polo shirt with printed motif, and a scarlet-red sweatshirt with the same motif as the shirt. Branded items are sold by the school to cover the cost, and governance of the arrangements is monitored by the school governing body. The overprinted garments are sold to cover the costs. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, said, neutral trousers or skirts are available at many superstores locally or from mail order outlets. Schools can use their discretion to assist families where appropriate.
The Bill would require the Government to publish legally binding guidance requiring school authorities to consider costs when setting school uniform policies. This is to be welcomed, but I wonder whether the Minister could clarify a couple of points. How is adherence to this to be checked? Would it be part of an Ofsted inspection or some annual return? Does the Children’s Commissioner have a view about the Bill? In 2015, the Department for Education made a commitment to make the guidance statutory. Why have we waited six years for it to be implemented?
The Bill is in response to concerns about the high cost of school uniforms. It was introduced as a Private Member’s Bill in the Commons. It meets a well-documented and acknowledged need. I am sure that it will have a more certain future than many Private Members’ Bills that get a Friday hearing in this place. Can the Minister confirm that issues such as branded items, sole-supplier arrangements and the availability of second-hand uniform will be covered in the guidance?
This little Bill deserves a Committee and Third Reading. Like the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, I hope that it will soon be on the statute book.
My Lords, I agree with all noble Lords this morning—except the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty—that there is overwhelming evidence of the benefits of school uniforms for both children and schools, so I support the intention of the Bill. However, I do not support the department failing to produce the draft guidance for us to see. Nor do I support legally enforceable obligations being imposed in the form of guidance which bypasses parliamentary scrutiny. These are serious deficiencies which ought to be remedied.
Way back last September when this Bill was in Committee in another place, the Minister there—my right honourable friend the very able Nick Gibb—said that the guidance would be published as soon as possible. On Report, he said that it was “progressing well” when asked by Chris Chope MP to produce a draft before the Bill concluded in this House. So where is it? It is not rocket science to convert voluntary guidance into statutory guidance and show us a draft.
We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke here and are being fobbed off. The department has had ample time to tweak the guidance into statutory guidance, but it does not want to show it to us until the Bill is passed and then, hey presto, the guidance will miraculously appear. There is only one valid solution for that ploy, which is to lay the guidance before Parliament for scrutiny in the form of a statutory instrument.
In new Section 551A(2) inserted by Clause 1, the Secretary of State is given exceptionally wide-ranging powers to make laws on anything he thinks “relevant” with regard to uniforms—not even the normal parliamentary test of anything he thinks “necessary” or “appropriate”, but simply “relevant”.
I am the chair of the Delegated Powers Committee, but I am speaking in a personal capacity this morning since my committee has not yet looked at the Bill or reported on it. I can say with three years of experience that this ploy of designating something which has statutory effect as mere guidance and not laying it before Parliament has been an unacceptable and growing phenomenon in recent years. Measures which are in effect regulations are rebranded as “guidance” or “protocols” instead. This guidance will be interpreted by thousands of schools, and some parents or groups of parents and uniform suppliers will disagree with the decisions, and those disagreements will ultimately end up in court. How ironic that judges will decide on the guidance and Parliament will never have had a chance to look at it.
This so-called guidance should be a statutory instrument, with the negative procedure only so that it can become law immediately but could be prayed against if necessary. It is not acceptable for the department to boast that it will consult widely with everyone—everyone except Parliament. I therefore propose to table in Committee a little amendment that the guidance be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I do not want to hear excuses that this will delay the Bill. No doubt the department will say that it cannot accept any amendments because then the Commons will have to approve them. There is no problem there; the Commons has ample time to do that if it accepts the amendment. In any case, that should have been thought of before trying to bounce this Bill through without producing the draft statutory guidance or seeking to avoid parliamentary scrutiny.
If something is important enough to be made statutory, it is important enough for Parliament to scrutinise it, no matter how little.
My Lords, I endorse the principles of this Private Member’s Bill and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, on bringing forward this much-needed legislation, albeit of one clause, that deals with the cost of schools uniforms.
This issue has gained momentum during the pandemic period, when many parents are furloughed or have become unemployed when they did not expect to be and therefore have less money to meet financial outlays. Furthermore, more families are reliant on foodbanks. Eleven years of austerity and the benefit cap have meant that choices have had to be made between eating and heating their properties. A further choice that parents have had to make in terms of school selection for children is whether their budget will cover the cost of the school uniforms, which in many cases can be up to £400 per child when we consider PE uniforms, all the branding and the issue of single suppliers.
As a consequence, parental choice has been inhibited by the cost of school uniforms. That means that children could be denied their proper access to a suitable school offering good educational courses with a sound basis for advancement and choice of careers. People need adequate resources and funds to purchase good-quality school uniforms. The situation has been compounded this year by the lack of accessibility to school, home schooling and parents finding out when their children are about to return to school that parts of the school uniform no longer fit. Therefore a sound, second-hand, affordable replacement/exchange policy needs to be in place so that they can access quality school uniforms and put their own up for resale to other parents and children. At some stage, that feature should be looked at. The Children’s Society has looked at all these issues and is definitely well informed about them.
I understand that the Government support the principles of this Bill, so I ask the Minister what progress has been made on drafting the statutory guidelines. Other noble Lords have referred to the time that has been taken. Will Parliament be consulted on the nature of the statutory guidelines and, if so, what will be the timeframe for that consultation and decision? When will the guidelines be implemented? What discussions have taken place with school authorities and, in turn, have they prepared parents and staff in all schools for the statutory nature of the guidance?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister on her introduction and taking on the task of guiding this Bill through your Lordships’ House. There is not a lot more to be said, and I can shorten it by saying that I totally agree with the views set out by the Child Poverty Action Group and the Children’s Society and that I am unpersuaded, having read it carefully, by the submission by the Schoolwear Association. However, I want to add my support to the Bill. It is an issue that I have followed closely for many years as a parent and as a past leader of the largest local education authority in the country.
There is one word in the Bill that made me pause. We see that proposed new subsection (6)(a) in Clause 1 refers to the “proprietor” of schools. I must admit that my heart runs cold when I see that, as it is a token of the way in which education has taken a wrong turn. However, leaving that on one side, the uniforms under the code should be simple and generic. They should be available from a range of retailers, be it Tesco or Asda— other retailers are available. It is important that the code adopts that approach rather than the ideas of trying to replicate the onerous cost of uniforms that we see in far too many schools. Of course, school identity is important, as some previous speakers have emphasised, but these should be added at only a minimal cost.
I strongly support the Bill, look forward to seeing the code and hope that it provides the relief that parents need in terms of cost and accessibility.
My Lords, I welcome this Bill. While it may be one of the briefest to come before this House, its effect should be widespread and beneficial to parents and pupils alike.
Back in 2012, Holland Park School in west London, a then local-authority run school, soon to become an academy, moved into its newly built state-of-the-art building, and its leadership team decided that pupils should have a new uniform. Not only did they pick an entirely brand new uniform but each item had a light blue flash on it. It was not something that you could buy in any clothes shop; it was and still is bespoke. The blazer alone cost £65 compared to a plain boy’s blazer from Marks and Spencer, which costs £26. The blue stripes are on every aspect of the uniform, from trousers to backpacks; they are all bespoke. This represented a massive financial outlay for families in replacing a perfectly good uniform with new expensive kit, almost overnight. There was no phasing from the old to the new uniform and, if a parent had more than one child at the school, it meant an even greater outlay overnight. A more affordable option would be for the school to provide badges for parents or pupils to sew on to the pocket of a plain blazer and bag, thus providing a personalised aspect for a school uniform at less than half the price of the bespoke one.
This is the sort of expenditure that families cannot afford, let alone afford in one go. In addition, we all know that these costs accumulate over school life when replacing damaged uniforms or ones that the child has grown out of, yet again. I am told that Citizens Advice was inundated at the time, with parents at their wits’ end to know how they would be able to afford it. Citizens Advice helped some to apply to a local charity for a uniform grant, but parents should not be placed in that situation.
My one hesitation about this Bill is that we are not seeing the draft guidance and, too often, the devil is in the detail. I ask the Minister to assure this House that the guidance will make it clear that bespoke uniforms should not be an option for schools and that any change in uniform is brought in gradually so that parents can financially plan ahead.
My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for introducing this Bill and for all her work. I have my own memories of going to school in hand me downs from my sisters, and the horror of a hand-knitted cardigan when everyone else had shop-bought ones. The briefings that we received for this debate include harrowing accounts of children bullied by classmates, reprimanded by teachers and even excluded for contravening uniform rules. Alongside these stories, I want to put on record the efforts of countless teachers who go out of their way and dig into their own pockets to provide clothing for pupils in need.
Many arguments are made for uniform as a leveller, but schools often use uniform to do the opposite, stipulating bespoke details that distinguish them from other schools. This has the unfortunate effect of building in cost, and also means a whole new uniform if parents move to a new area. Even requiring an open-neck shirt rather than one that buttons to the top limits choice of suppliers and pushes up price. While blazers might be considered a safe choice, most young women go through extreme physical changes during secondary school, meaning that the most expensive item of the uniform has to be bought several times over or, in my case, bought in such a generous size that, while it swamped me at the outset, it at least lasted the necessary five years. Some schools even stipulate the colour of coats because students are “representing the school” beyond its gates. Is that really the purpose of school uniform? Surely, young people carry enough pressures without being expected to represent their school on the proverbial number 9 bus.
This Bill is a chance to right some of these wrongs. Can the Minister ensure that, if it is passed, regulations will ensure that school governing bodies prioritise affordability and value for money, that uniform is available at a range of outlets and the list of suppliers is regularly reviewed, that branded and expensive items are avoided, that parents are consulted on proposed changes and that financial hardship support is clearly signposted? I also look forward to her answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, about fee-paying schools where, as I know from experience, parents of fee-assisted students can struggle with eye-watering uniform costs. Finally, will the Minister, who I know cares deeply about young people, use her powers to ensure that schools are prevented from sending home or excluding children who fail to comply with uniform policies?
This Bill does not seek to ban school uniform, but it provides a chance to ask the question about what uniform is for. Theories abound—that uniforms improve behaviour, foster pride and create an environment without victimisation—but hard evidence is harder to come by, and the only safe conclusion is that it is not clear whether there is a causal link between strict uniform policies and attainment. One thing is clear: for teachers, the most important thing is to have the student in the classroom, whatever they are wearing, and time spent disciplining for uniform infringements would be better spent on teaching.
This Bill is an important step in reducing the cost of education for low-income families, but it needs to be a first step. The Cost of the School Day project highlights the trips, lunches, kits, equipment, dress down or dress up days that pile cost on parents and leave some children marginalised. So, let us start with uniform, but recognise that it is only the beginning if we are serious about levelling up.
My Lords, like most noble Lords I am a great supporter of this Bill, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the Member for Weaver Vale for bringing it forward.
I think that the only speaker who has questioned the Bill has been the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, whom I normally always agree with. I have to tell him that I taught as a deputy head in a school in a deprived community where the head teacher and governors did not believe in school uniform. The result, as other noble Lords have suggested, was competition for the latest designer clothes, sweatshirts and t-shirts, trainers or whatever it was, which created great upset among the pupils. Those who could not afford the latest gear, as they called it, were often name-called and bullied.
The briefings clearly show the real concern that parents and families face over school uniform provision. I particularly thank the Children’s Society, the House of Lords Library, the Child Poverty Action Group and the Schoolwear Association for their briefings. Rather than repeat facts and figures, I shall tell noble Lords about two experiences which to my mind show the problem—one a follow-up the contribution made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes.
In Liverpool, a popular, local co-ed school had a very sensible uniform policy: grey trousers or skirt, a polo shirt and sweatshirt, all in the school colours and with the school crest, and inexpensive, hard-wearing and practical. In the sixth form, it was casual but smart, and no jeans. A new head teacher decided to replace the uniform—yes, she consulted. It then consisted of grey trousers for boys, a kilt for girls, a shirt or blouse, a tie, a V-neck pullover with the school colours woven into the V and a blazer with the school badge. For sixth-formers, it was a grey suit. It looked very smart, but it cost an arm and a leg and had to be obtained from the retailer who had exclusive rights. Needless to say, after a few months, the general wear and tear of playground activities took its toll. Parents from disadvantaged circumstances could not have several items, and you could soon tell family circumstances by looking at the pupils’ clothing. It led to name-calling and bullying.
My second observation is that, as a head teacher myself, I kept the uniform and sportswear at my school —with the support of governors—very simple, with a sweatshirt and polo shirt in the school colours and the choice of a shirt or tie if parents and pupils wanted that. However, I constantly got requests from school uniform providers, including well-known stores, to make my school clothing exclusive to them. In return, the school would get an amount of money for each item sold. I chose not to do that: we set up our own school uniform shop, which parents ran, and everything was sold at cost.
If we care about poverty and children’s well-being and mental health, this Private Member’s Bill is really important and needs support. I have two brief questions for the Minister—both have already been asked. First, why are independent and private schools not included? My observation is that they would very much want to be involved. Secondly, can the Government assure us that we will act with great speed to get this Bill through Parliament?
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate on a Bill that is timely, and not simply because the current non-statutory guidance is now eight years old. It is needed because far too many families—many more than when the Bill began its parliamentary journey a year ago—are experiencing financial pressures of all kinds. The cost of sending their children to school adequately clothed should not be one of them.
I commend my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for her opening speech and for picking up the baton to ensure that the Bill moves through your Lordships’ House as smoothly as possible.
The current guidance states that schools should give the highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents, but evidence shows that, in too many cases, that simply is not happening. School uniforms are important in promoting school unity and a positive ethos while also acting as a leveller. Yet current school uniform policies too often let down the most disadvantaged pupils.
I should declare an interest on behalf of my son, whose branded school uniform—as is the case for all maintained schools in the London borough where we live—has but one supplier. That is the source of many complaints from parents, on the grounds not so much of cost, I have to say, but of availability. The start of the school year often seems to take the supplier by surprise because the new term has usually started before it is able to deliver all the uniforms that have been ordered. However, I should say that, today, no uniform is required: to mark Red Nose Day, all children are wearing an item in that colour.
I do not often disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, but I must on this occasion. I am a firm advocate of uniforms, which can and should make children feel equal to their peers. They also remove pressures to flaunt the latest and often expensive label or brand of clothes or shoes. Yet they are not cheap. My noble friend Lady Lister quoted research released last week by the Children’s Society that showed that parents spend in excess of £300 a year on school uniforms for each child. The Children’s Society also found that some parents choose a school based on the cost of the uniform, particularly where PE and sports kits are concerned. Families should never be put in that position. That survey of 1,000 parents also found—as other noble Lords have said—that nearly a quarter said that the cost of school uniforms meant that their child had worn ill fitting or incorrect uniform. So much for being equal to their peers.
Compulsory branded clothing is the major contributing factor to the high costs of school uniforms, often meaning that families can buy uniforms from only one supplier. It is a basic rule of economics that exclusive suppliers raise the cost of whatever they sell, and that holds for school uniforms, even where a tendering process has been carried out. I agree with my noble friend Lord Hain, the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and several other noble Lords that the Bill would have had greater effect had single suppliers been precluded—although, had that been the case, I doubt it would have progressed to this stage.
In November 2015, the Government published A Better Deal, which included a commitment to put the Department for Education’s existing school uniform guidance on costs on a statutory footing, stating:
“The government wants to ensure that effective competition is used to drive better value for money and will therefore put existing best practice guidance for school uniform supply in England on a statutory footing.”
So why continue to allow exclusive providers?
In September 2019, the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, wrote to the DfE in his role as chair of the Competition and Markets Authority, urging it to introduce legislation requiring schools to allow parents to shop around rather than insisting on a single supplier, after the CMA received an influx of complaints from parents on the issue that summer. The department responded, stating that the Government would put the legislation on a statutory footing
“when a suitable opportunity arises”,
although it did not commit to ending single suppliers. In that same month of September 2019, when giving evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, the then Education Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Agnew, said that
“there is a specific problem of a relatively small number of schools who use this requirement of monopoly suppliers for uniforms. I do not like it, because it is a pernicious way of excluding children from less well-off backgrounds.”
I cannot avoid asking the Minister whether she agrees with her predecessor.
Finally, the Bill’s Explanatory Notes state that the Bill
“will come into force two months after the day on which it is passed.”
In briefings to noble Lords, both the Local Government Association and the Schoolwear Association have pressed for a delay. I do not advocate a delay as such, because parents should have protection as soon as is practical, but a phased introduction, as suggested by my noble friend Lady Lister, would allow parents to make full use of existing uniforms and allow them and suppliers to plan properly for the introduction of new ones.
Statutory guidance is required, and we have no wish to see the Bill delayed. I look forward to assisting in it reaching the statute book by the end of the current Session, which we now understand means the end of next month.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for introducing this Bill and all noble Lords for their contributions today. I also congratulate the honourable Member for Weaver Vale for getting this Bill through the other place unscathed.
The Government encourage schools to have a uniform because of how it can contribute to the ethos of a school and create a common identity among pupils. As many noble Lords have said, it is a social leveller. I must therefore disagree with the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty. I happened to be out on the street when the Grey Coat Hospital secondary school was dispersing, and you just could not tell who was from what background because they were all in that distinctive grey uniform.
The Bill will reinforce the role of school uniform while reducing the cost to parents, which is a key point that the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, outlined. I know that noble Lords will want to know the intended contents of the statutory guidance and I take this opportunity to set out our proposed approach.
In relation to branded items, which have been the topic of much debate, the Government’s current non-statutory guidance advises that schools should keep such branded items of uniform to a minimum, as multiple branded items can significantly increase costs for parents. We plan to maintain this approach in the statutory guidance and specify additionally that their use should be limited to low-cost or long-lasting items. The guidance will provide information to schools about ways in which they can achieve the benefits of a branded item while keeping the cost to parents low. As the noble Lord, Lord Clark, said, this might involve the use of sew-on or iron-on logos, among other approaches, which was also mentioned by my noble friend Lady Gardner.
By taking this approach, we will set a clear expectation that schools should not overuse branded items—I agree with my predecessor, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, outlined, that this should not be a barrier to access to the best schools for disadvantaged children—while allowing schools to take sensible decisions based on their own individual circumstances. I have become aware, for instance, that some multi-academy trusts, such as Outwood Grange, which have a number of schools across a number of towns, have taken the decision to have the same uniform across all schools in their trust, thereby driving down the price of branded items for parents. In addition, Outwood provides students their first set of uniform for free, to further support parents with the cost of school uniform.
I will address the issue of sole-supplier arrangements, which many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Randall, raised. The department’s current non-statutory guidance recommends that schools avoid exclusive sole-supplier contracts unless a regular competitive tendering process is run, to secure best value for money for parents. To address the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, trusts which have done this have been able to secure value, including commitments to avoid excessive price rises. It also helps with the point about stock across the year, which was also made. We intend to maintain this approach in the statutory guidance, while providing further information for schools on how to tender well, which will ensure that there is competition and transparency within schools’ supply arrangements. This approach will not punish good suppliers: their emphasis on quality and value for money will be rewarded as standards across the industry improve; nor will it diminish the value that sole suppliers are able to offer in terms of ensuring year-round supply, allowing the supplier to provide a full range of sizes and securing economies of scale.
The noble Lord, Lord Hain, referred to the situation in Wales. The Government’s approach is not to subsidise what can be overpriced uniform. The situation in England is more varied and the statutory guidance will be appropriate for parents and families in England.
Many noble Lords raised the issue of second-hand uniform. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, that statutory guidance will cover the provision of second-hand uniform, which can play a valuable role—an essential role, actually—in keeping the costs of school uniform reasonable for all parents. I would like every school to ensure that arrangements are in place so that second-hand school uniform is available for parents. It was pleasing to hear the examples from the right reverend Prelate of the bespoke second-hand shops and initiatives in the north-east.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard spoke about VAT. Clothing for under-14s is already exempt from VAT, at a cost of around £2 billion a year. There are no plans to extend the VAT exemption to older children. I note with interest the comments of my noble friend Lord Moynihan about the use of technology and the emergence of online second-hand shops.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham raised ethical issues. We want schools to give high priority to cost considerations and value for money, but that does not prevent them taking account of other issues which are important in their local context, such as ethical sourcing. There is a waste resources action plan out of Defra, working with the supermarkets, which many noble Lords have said is where a lot of families get their non-branded items, and there is a voluntary agreement at the moment, called the sustainable clothing action plan, which the Government are supporting.
The noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Bourne, the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, mentioned independent schools. In choosing an independent school, parents are making that choice in terms of paying the fees, and school uniform costs are something that they need to take into consideration. I take on board the point made by the noble Baroness in relation to scholarship children, and when I next meet the Independent Schools Council, I will raise this issue of scholarship students.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bull, and others made reference to the behaviour policy and the bullying that can take place. Of course, behaviour and any exclusion decisions are for the school and the governing body, but that is part of Ofsted’s inspection regime so, in that respect, it would be monitored. As for what happens if a parent has a concern about the cost of school uniform, or a complaint, that is to be made directly to the school and is not a matter we intend putting under Ofsted’s purview. If the parent is not happy with the result of complaining to the school, they can come to the department about it. We understand that sometimes, when schools change leadership and there is a new head teacher, et cetera, there can be a change in uniform policy but, of course, there should be consultation in relation to that. Under the statutory guidance, they must have regard to that, including the cost of school uniforms.
In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, hospital schools will not be within the purview of the Bill because we feel they are in a unique situation and it would be inappropriate to bind them in that way.
Many noble Lords are eager to know when the statutory guidance will come into effect so that parents can benefit from it. I share this view, but we need to ensure that schools can implement changes in a timely and considered manner, to prevent parents incurring additional costs from short-notice policy changes, and particularly having to waste uniform already purchased. Subject to Royal Assent and appropriate stakeholder engagement, I would like to be in a position to issue the guidance this autumn. While schools will not be required to make sudden changes to their uniform policy in September, we expect schools to start thinking about the changes they need to make once the guidance is issued. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that we will set out clearly in the statutory guidance when we expect schools to implement the requirements.
I say to my noble friend Lord Blencathra that the passage of the Bill thus far has generated valuable and considered debate, and the Government have been keen to take into account the views raised in Parliament in developing the statutory guidance. I reassure noble Lords that, as I have done today, the Government will continue to clearly set out our position on school uniform and the content of the statutory guidance for the House during the legislative process—that is a matter of public record. I commit to sharing a copy of the draft statutory guidance so that noble Lords can have sight of it. I assure all noble Lords that we will continue to engage with them and with key stakeholders before we finalise the guidance, to ensure that it will be fit for purpose. This includes representatives of schools, parents and other interested parties, such as the Children’s Society and the Schoolwear Association, whose members, to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, supply uniforms both on the high street and online.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, raised valuable points regarding future revisions of the statutory guidance. I reassure noble Lords that, should the guidance be revised significantly in future, the Department for Education will assess the economic impact of changes and undertake similar stakeholder engagement. Obviously, I am happy to meet my noble friend Lord Blencathra to, I hope, assuage his concerns. There is no intention here to bypass parliamentary scrutiny and I hope that by agreeing to share the draft statutory guidance I have allayed his fears, but we may have to explore, in that meeting, whether having regulations, when something like this probably needs to be amended quite frequently, is actually the best use of the important role that Parliament has in scrutinising this.
The Bill, as noble Lords have outlined, will help families across the country who may be struggling to afford school uniform. The Government support the Bill and ask noble Lords to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and resist the temptation to table amendments: I urge noble Lords to support her in that.
My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their kind words and for, in virtually every case, I think, their strong support for the Bill. I am grateful to the Minister, who responded so ably to everything that was said that I do not need to do so—I am conscious of time and of other Bills waiting to be debated. I will simply emphasise, as a number of noble Lords did, the importance of speed, both in terms of getting the Bill on the statute book and then getting the guidance out for this autumn, so that a phased introduction of statutory guidance can take place.
As a number of noble Lords said, we are in a situation where there is dire child poverty. Poverty is growing and families are under ever greater pressure, so the Bill is even more important than when it was first introduced in the House of Commons. With that, I look forward to reading in Hansard the very constructive comments that noble Lords have made.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.