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New law to make school uniform costs affordable for all

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Families will save money on #SchoolUniforms from next year, following new legally-binding guidance published today (Friday 19th November) requiring schools to make uniform affordable for all.

  • New statutory guidance requiring schools to keep uniform costs down
  • Schools advised to keep branded items to a minimum and allow high street items
  • Second-hand uniform must be available, providing cost-effective and sustainable options

The Department for Education (DfE) guidance means schools in England must ensure that school uniform costs are reasonable, and parents get the best value for money.

Research from the DfE in 2015 showed that parents can save almost £50 on average if they can buy all school uniform items from any store, compared to uniform which all needs to be bought from a designated shop or school. From next autumn, schools will be required to help keep costs down by taking steps to remove unnecessary branded items and allowing more high-street options, like supermarket own-brand uniform.

To support families, schools will have to make sure second-hand uniforms are available, also helping work towards achieving net zero carbon emissions. In the UK, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year and encouraging families to use second-hand uniform can reduce waste and bring down emissions from manufacturing new garments, while making it cost-effective for families.

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Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi said: 

“School uniform provides a sense of identity and community for children and young people, and should be a real source of pride. But it must never be a burden for parents or a barrier to pupils accessing education.

“This new binding guidance will help to make uniforms far more affordable for families by driving costs down as we work hard to level up the country.”

Schools should make sure their uniform policy is published on their website and is clear and easy for parents to understand.

The new guidance also requires schools to use competitive and transparent contracts with suppliers. Should schools need to tender to secure a new contract, they have until December 2022.

Ensuring that uniform does not restrict where pupils go to school supports the Government’s commitment to levelling up opportunity across the country.

Schools are expected to have taken steps to adhere to the new guidance before parents buy uniform for the academic year beginning in September 2022.

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“It’s important to remember that a large number of schools already work extremely hard to ensure that their uniform is affordable for families. Many schools also run schemes to provide support for families who might be struggling with the cost of uniform.

“That being said, we fully support the move to ensure that uniform remains as affordable as possible in every school. We know that an increasing number of families have come under financial pressure due to the pandemic, so measures that could reduce the cost of uniform are certainly welcome.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“Schools already follow the government’s non-statutory guidance on school uniform which says that they should seek to select items that can be purchased cheaply, and that compulsory branded items should be kept to a minimum. This new guidance effectively makes this statutory.

“We fully support this guidance. Many schools have a uniform policy in order to give students a sense of identity and pride in their school, and to avoid the pressure children would feel if there was no policy and their peers wore expensive items and fashions they could not afford.

“However, schools are acutely aware of the need to keep uniform costs to a minimum, particularly as they often have many students who come from disadvantaged homes. They deal on a daily basis with the impact of the high level of child poverty the government has failed to address.”

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Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said:

“School uniforms should be a leveller, yet they remain one of the biggest cost pressures for parents. We are deeply concerned about the financial hardship many families are currently facing. Schools do a significant job dealing with the effects of poverty in their classrooms, but schools cannot act alone and urgent action to tackle the scourge of child poverty is needed. Any measures from Government to support families, and bring the costs of school uniform down, are welcome. 

“Branded or specialised school uniforms place unnecessary financial pressure on parents and carers to provide unaffordable clothing for their children, when similar, cheaper options can often be found in supermarkets or high street shops. This has gone on for far too long, and cuts particularly hard at a time when the cost of living is rocketing. It is welcome, therefore, that today’s guidance advises keeping branded items to a minimum and permits high-street options. We are also pleased to see guidance on second-hand uniforms being made available, which are not only cost-effective but sustainable options.” 

Matt Easter, Co-Chair of the Schoolwear Association, said:

“We welcome this guidance as it takes a balanced and proportionate approach towards ensuring parents get good value for money from uniforms, without creating unreasonable burdens on schools or uniform suppliers. Importantly, it reinforces that the majority of schools are already doing the right thing and, in most cases, will already be fully, or almost, compliant.

“As the leading schoolwear industry body, we are committed helping schools understand the implications of the guidance for their uniform policies, and will continue to work with them to ensure the process of choosing a uniform supplier remains as robust, competitive, and easy as possible.”

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“For too many years the cost of school uniform has been a heavy financial burden on many families, causing money worries and even debt, so these new guidelines to make sure school uniforms are affordable are extremely welcome.

“Until now, too many parents have had to fork out for expensive branded items rather than cheaper alternatives, while having to cut back on essentials like food or heating. So we hope schools are able to start working with the guidance, which should ultimately make it much easier for families to kit out their children for school without breaking the bank.”

Ann Pope, CMA Senior Director of Antitrust, said:

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No one should be made to pay over the odds when buying the basics that their children need to attend school. That’s why it is important that schools have clearer rules on how to choose uniform suppliers, to ensure people get value for money. 

“We have been working with the government to develop this guidance, which legally obliges schools to consider the cost of uniforms and to undergo regular tenders if they have a single supplier. This should lead to lower prices for parents by ensuring suppliers compete more strongly to win schools’ business.”

Parentkind CEO John Jolly said:

“Parentkind strongly welcomes the new guidance that reduces costs for parents and promotes schools engaging with their parent community on uniform policy. We were delighted to present parents’ views to the Department, and we are pleased that they have been heard.

“Our Parent Voice Report 2021 finds that uniforms top parents’ concerns on schooling costs. More PTA-run second hand uniform shops, along with the new guidance, should quickly reduce the financial burden on parents.”

The research data on school uniform costs comes from the Cost of school uniform 2015 research report. The research was carried out by BMG Research on behalf of the Department for Education (DfE) with parents and carers of children in state funded education.


New law to make school uniform costs affordable for all 

29th Apr 2021: A new law will require schools to follow Government statutory guidance on school uniform costs.

The publication of this statutory guidance was made into law today, when a Private Members’ Bill by Mike Amesbury MP was given cross-party support.

School uniforms will be made more affordable for families under a new law passed by Parliament today (29 April).

The Act, which received Royal Assent today, will require schools to follow new statutory guidance on uniform costs, instructing them to keep prices down.

The cross-party support for the Bill recognised the costs parents face for school uniform, particularly for branded items, and the statutory guidance will tell schools to consider high street alternatives.

It will also include measures on encouraging second-hand uniform, schools’ arrangements with suppliers, and ensuring parents have access to clear information about uniform policies.

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School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said:

“School uniforms are important in establishing the right ethos in a school. They also help to improve behaviour and a sense of belonging and identity. But we want to be sure they are affordable for parents.

“This new law will help to save families money and ensure the cost of a blazer or shirt is never a barrier to accessing the best possible education.”

The new law, introduced as a Private Members’ Bill by Mike Amesbury MP and given Government backing, enables the Government to set statutory guidance for schools to consider about costs for uniforms.

The Department will publish the statutory guidance in the autumn this year, which will focus on ensuring costs are reasonable for families of all backgrounds and giving parents the best value for money.

It will also advise schools to make sure that when they take up contracts with uniform suppliers, they are competitive and transparent in order to keep costs down.

The Government is committed to ensuring no family is deterred from applying to a school due to the costs for its uniform. Once guidance is published, schools will be required by law to consider it when developing their uniform policies.

James Bowen, director of policy for school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“It’s important to remember that a large number of schools already work extremely hard to ensure that their uniform is affordable for families. Many schools also run schemes to provide support for families who might be struggling with the cost of uniform.

“That being said, we fully support the move to ensure that uniform remains as affordable as possible in every school. We know that an increasing number of families have come under financial pressure due to the pandemic, so measures that could reduce the cost of uniform are certainly welcome.”

Matt Easter, Co-Chair of the Schoolwear Association said:

“As the leading schoolwear industry body, we welcome the Bill and the help it will provide for schools looking for further guidance on their uniform policies, to ensure the process of choosing a uniform supplier is as robust, competitive and easy as possible.

“In particular, we welcome the Government’s recognition that the quality and longevity of garments should be considered alongside their cost. Whilst the vast majority of schools already work hard to keep their uniforms affordable, this Bill is an important step to help them continue to make the best decisions on their uniform policies and offer the best support to parents.”

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said:

“We are thrilled this new law has passed and we thank Minister Gibb and the Department for Education for their support. This legislation will be vital in ensuring that school uniforms become more affordable for families across the country.

“Young people told us back in 2014 that high-priced school uniforms had a huge impact on their ability to make the most of their education. We hope this new law will make children feel more equal to their classmates and make life easier for struggling families.”

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