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School Uniform Policies

Volume 830: debated on Monday 12 June 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, following the recommendation of the Welsh Minister for Education that school governing bodies should review uniform policies, what assessment they have made of the case for doing this in England.

My Lords, following the publication of statutory guidance in November 2021, all schools in England should already have reviewed their uniform policy and made changes to ensure their uniforms are affordable for parents. The Cost of School Uniforms guidance came into force in September 2022. It requires schools to ensure their uniform costs are affordable and that parents get the best value for money. Schools should be fully compliant with the guidance by September 2023.

I thank the Minister for her Answer and the statutory guidance being put in place. But the Government have never been clear about how they are going to assess the success of the guidance. Has it reduced costs for parents? Are schools complying with it? Are stronger policies such as the ones we have in place in Wales needed? Can the Minister please tell us whether there are any plans to review its implementation?

In terms of complying with the guidance, which is obviously statutory, any concerns that a parent might have about a school’s uniform policy need to be raised with the school in the first instance through its complaints process. If the parent is then unhappy with the outcome of their complaint, they can, of course, raise it with the department.

My Lords, can the Minister indicate what monitoring the Government undertake with schools in relation to the affordability of school uniforms? Many families face a difficult cost of living crisis.

I absolutely understand that families face a cost of living crisis, which is why the Government provided £94 billion of support for households with those higher costs across 2022-23 and 2023-24. On how we ensure compliance, I can only repeat what I said to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, in my long experience in education, schools are very much alive to the needs of their youngsters, particularly with regard to school uniforms. Does the Minister agree with me that the real problem here is that the noble Baroness is asking for a national government edict on school uniform? Surely this should be a matter for local education authorities, whose roles and responsibilities have been weakened and reduced over many years.

The Government believe that it should be even more local than that. I agree with the first part of the noble Baroness’s question: schools absolutely know their communities. We very much encourage schools to work with their parent bodies to establish their school uniform policies and to work out what suits them.

Does my noble friend agree that it is important to allow children to have a sense of identity and belonging, with which uniforms help very much? What is being done to encourage schools that have a recycling policy? That is terribly important and can significantly reduce the cost.

I agree with my noble friend’s first point, but we are encouraging schools to identify elements of their branded uniform that are low cost, finding their identity through a tie, perhaps, rather than a blazer. Our guidance is clear about promoting second-hand uniforms, which many students prefer because of the environmental impact.

My Lords, given that many forecast an extremely hot summer, with heatwaves, and given that our uniforms were designed for another age in many cases, will the Minister encourage others to follow the lead of Hampshire County Council—which suggested that schools should adapt uniform rules and consider adapting start and finish times, and outside activities—to acknowledge the threat presented by our rising temperature levels?

As I said, schools know their communities, and we trust them to make the right judgments for their pupils and staff.

My Lords, in her response to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble Baroness mentioned environmental sustainability. Will she accept that the cheapest clothes available, not just for school uniforms but in many other situations, are on the whole made from the least environmentally sustainable fabrics? Will she accept that, if there is to be an increase in recycling and reusing school uniforms—which I think we all agree would be very good—it would be very much in everyone’s interests if they were made from the highest-quality fabrics? They would then last longer in the recycling process.

We have to strike a balance for parents who need to send their children to school in a uniform that fits and is suitable, encouraging them to use second-hand uniforms wherever possible, while of course considering the environment.