School Uniforms Add Financial Pressure to Families

The Education Department is aware of the issues around the high price of school uniforms and support is available for those who are struggling to afford them.

Education Minister Dr Alex Allinson was asked, by Kate Lord-Brennan MLC, what action the DESC will take in connection with uniform policy to make school uniform and PE kit fair and affordable for parents?

In his response, Dr Allinson said that requiring school children to wear a uniform, both in school and for PE, creates ‘identity and a sense of belonging’ and allows for a ‘common dress code, not driven by fashion or social status’.

He added: ‘Schools are currently permitted to make decisions and formulate their own policies with regard to the detailed nature of the uniform, in conjunction with their governing body, and have well-developed practices and guidance for pupils and parents.

‘Schools are mindful of the financial burden that uniforms can place upon families. Parents are encouraged to approach the Head Teacher if they are experiencing particular difficulties. Schools will then support parents in exploring options. Options that are available include second hand uniforms, using funds available from third sector providers and dedicated funds held by DESC.’

Recognising the Problem

However, the Minister added that the cost of different PE and sports clothing has ‘been identified as a source of financial pressure for some families’, which has been raised at the Education Council.

Dr Allinson said: ‘The DESC is currently reviewing all existing policies, and will continue to work closely with schools to ensure all policies meet the needs of pupils, their families or carers and the wider community.’

How Much Does it Cost?

A quick look on a local supplier’s website for our reporter’s former school St Ninian’s. The website, which the school’s own page says sells ‘bespoke uniform’ lists costs as:

  • Blazer ranges from £27 to £32
  • PE T-shirt ranges from £6.50 to £10.20 
  • PE Polo shirt ranges from £9.95 to £13.95
  • School rugby shirt ranges from £22 to £26.40 
  • PE shorts range from £6.45 to £7.95
  • Skorts cost either £14.45 or £16.95 and school PE socks cost £4.75
  • Other options include a school jumper ranging from £17.95 to £23 and a hoodie costing either £14.95 or £19.45

If we take the prices for a smallish child starting Year 7 in September, that’s over £70 before you’ve even bought shirts, trousers, a tie, shoes, trainers, football boots, shin pads and everything else children need for school. Parents can buy these items from other shops as the school says only the blazer and rugby top have to have the school badge on them.

For primary school pupils, again using one of our reporter’s former schools, Ashley Hill Primary School, the same website lists sweatshirts at £12.50, cardigans at £14, polo shirts at £10, PE shirts at £5.50 and a book bag folder costing £7. Parents can also buy branded jackets, with a fleece costing £24 and a deluxe winter jacket costing £24.

The UK

Writing for Martin Lewis’ Money Saving Expert website, Helen Knapman said: ‘The cost of buying school uniforms for children in England could fall later this year after a new law was passed which will mean schools must try to keep prices down and keep branded items to a minimum.

A Bill passed in April says schools must:

  • Make sure contracts with uniform suppliers are competitive and transparent in order to keep costs down
  • Consider the quality and longevity of garments, alongside their cost
  • Consider high street alternatives instead of branded-items, which can be pricey
  • Encourage the use of second-hand uniform
  • Ensure parents have access to clear information about uniform policies

However the UK’s Department of Education has not clarified what this means in practice. The website does offer hints on where parents can get cheaper uniforms in the UK, but Manx parents have to either pay for costs of branded uniforms or improvise as best as they can.

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