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‘Crippling’ school uniform costs see parents fork out over £400 a year

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak
Posted:
Updated:
27/06/2023

Parents and carers continue to pay hundreds of pounds each year for their child’s school uniform, despite Government rules to make the clothing affordable.

Secondary school uniforms set parents back by an average £422 a year, while for primary school children, the typical cost stands at £287.

According to The Children’s Society, the high cost of school uniforms is partly down to policies requiring branded items which can only be bought from specialist shops, rather than from supermarkets or other high street chains.

The charity said that with the average pupil expected to have three branded items, with a third of secondary school pupils required to own four or five while one in 10 pupils need six or seven, and the costs soon place a “significant financial burden for many families”.

This is despite school uniform rules from the Government – introduced in autumn 2022 – requiring schools in England to ensure uniform costs are reasonable, and that parents get the best value for money.

This means schools are discouraged from using branded items, avoiding single supplier contracts, as well as requiring them to publish clear and accessible uniform policies on their websites.

According to the charity’s poll of 2,000 parents, 45% reported that their school uniform policies had not been updated, while 27% said they were uncertain about the status of their school’s policy.

The charity said that it appears that legislation “is not being widely and strongly enforced”, leaving some schools failing to provide parents and carers the best value for their money.

Parents reported secondary school uniform being the most expensive, with coats and bags averaging £75 per child per year. This is followed by sports shoes and boots for PE at £63; school shoes at £62, blazers at £46; skirts and dresses at £46, and jumpers and ties at £40.

‘Significant financial burden for many families’

Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “It’s alarming that parents are still forced to spend exorbitant amounts on school uniforms. With inflation and the cost of living eating into family budgets, we are disappointed that the affordability of school uniforms remains a significant financial burden for many families.

“As an organisation, we had campaigned for many years to make school uniform affordable and while some schools have made commendable changes to reduce costs, this positive trend is still not widespread enough. We urge parents who struggle with the affordability of school uniforms to contact the school and the school governors.”

Mike Amesbury MP who introduced the Private Member’s Bill on school uniform costs that became law, said: “I was delighted when the law was passed in 2021 to make school uniform more affordable so families had more choice and fewer specialist items to buy.

“However, it appears that the rules on branded items aren’t clear enough so can be interpreted differently by schools, or the message isn’t getting through so I would urge the Department for Education to do more so schools make these important changes.”

Nikki, the mum of a primary school child told YourMoney.com: “My daughter’s school has a very loosely worded uniform policy on its website. It predominantly links you to its two uniform suppliers who are trying to cash in by not only offering ‘essential’ items of school uniform such as jumpers and polo shirts, but other unnecessary extras such as school branded water bottles, winter hats and coats.

“As the policy was so loosely worded, I asked the head teacher what the requirement was regarding branded items. Her response was that they prefer if children have branded uniforms, but that as a minimum they’d like it if they had jumpers or cardigans with the branding.”

Nikki said the school had a second-hand sale at the summer fair where she picked up three branded polo shirts, a branded cardigan, jumper, two pinafores and a shirt for £10 in total – much less than buying new. But she spent £90 on her daughter’s PE kit, book bag, trainers and summer dress, adding that the additional outlay on kids’ school shoes is “not cheap” either.

Detention and exclusion for uniform breach

The charity said that some children have been penalised for breaching uniform policies because families had been unable to afford the ‘correct’ items.

One in five parents said their child experienced detention, while 12% had been placed in isolation. For one in 14, they were even excluded for wearing the wrong clothes or shoes.

One child said: “I got a detention for wearing a jumper under my blazer. It is the right colour, but it doesn’t have the badge. I was wearing the jumper because it had been cold.”

Their mother added: “I can’t afford to buy a school jumper at the moment. The cost of living has gone up. There is no extra money.”

The Children’s Society and partners Children North East and Child Action Poverty Group have published a school uniform explainer for families in England.

Alternatively, see YourMoney.com’s How to cut school uniform costs for more ways to save.