Families with children at secondary school are paying an average of more than £300 per child, per year in school uniform costs, according to a report by The Children’s Society.
Much of the high cost is because of school uniform policies that make parents buy specific items of clothing and accessories from specialist shops – rather than allowing them to grab bargains from supermarkets and sew on a badge or logo later.
95% of parents believe they are expected to pay ‘unreasonable’ amount.
Furthermore, it estimates that 220,000 children have had their school chosen partly on account of the cost of the uniform – something that the School Admissions Code says must not happen.
Also, an estimated 780,000 children have to wear uniforms that do not fit because their parents cannot afford to keep buying new items.
According to the report, children whose parents cannot afford the cost of uniforms often face the humiliation of punishment or bullying for not having exactly the right clothes or kit. Around 350,000 children are estimated to have been sent home for wearing “incorrect” items.
The report estimates that more than 1.1 million children live in families that have cut back spending on food or other basic essentials as a result of uniform costs.
Existing government guidance calls on schools to consider the cost of their uniform policies. However, the report calls on the government to make this guidance – which is due to be reviewed this summer – statutory so that schools have a legally binding commitment to keep uniforms affordable. The charity is also calling on ministers to act by capping school uniform costs.
The new report finds that parents of secondary age children pay the most for school uniform, with shoes the most expensive item, costing £56 annually for each child. They are followed by coats and bags (averaging £55 per year) and sport shoes and boots (£47). Blazers are also pricey, with an average price tag of £42 for secondary school pupils.
Where parents have to buy from a specific supplier, costs are an average of £48 per year higher for secondary school children and £93 higher for primary school children, the report found. Other reasons for high costs include schools requiring many different items of uniform – including coats, different ties for different school years, and multiple items of sports kit.
Based on statistics from the Department for Education on numbers of pupils in state schools, The Children’s Society estimates that parents pay about £2.1 billion per year on school uniforms. That is £1.3 billion more than what parents say would be “reasonable”. And it is despite Government guidance which states that schools should keep the cost of school uniforms down.
Lily Caprani, Director of Policy and Strategy for The Children’s Society, said: “Parents are fed up with paying the costs of stringent and prescriptive school uniform requirements that deprive them of the choice to shop around for prices they can afford. They are digging ever deeper into their pockets to pay for book bags and blazers when what they really want is for their children to receive a good education and a good start in life.
“We know that children whose parents cannot afford the cost of specialist uniforms face punishment and bullying for not having exactly the right clothes or kit. It’s time for the Government to introduce legally binding rules to stop schools from making parents pay over the odds for items available only at specialist shops.”
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