Making school uniforms affordable: A case study

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:

The introduction of a new uniform at Race Leys Junior School could have presented a financial burden to parents. Head of school Sue-Ellen Lamb explains what they did to ensure this wasn’t the case

School uniforms have the power to give children a sense of belonging to a group with similar values and goals. When done right, they help foster a positive learning environment and promote the school.

Furthermore, they create equality among children – with every child arriving at the school in the same attire.

However, uniforms can be another source of worry for parents, with school demands creating additional costs for families. And while one would assume school uniforms in the UK do not allow fashion trends to infiltrate, it is amazing how creative children can be in making their uniform their own.

However, this can lead to inequality, as children differentiate based on brand of clothing (specifically shoes) and official versus non-official attire.

For us, and how we have designed our approach, uniforms help showcase a clear sense of equality. This is a core aspect of our ethos at Race Leys Junior School, which is based in Warwickshire and part of the Griffin Schools Trust. We aim to widen horizons while keeping proud traditions, and our uniform helps achieve this.

In 2020, we made a change to the uniform, introducing branded blazers, shirts (rather than polo shirts) and ties. For a state primary school, this is quite different.

The elephant in the room was cost. A blazer costs more than a jumper and ties are completely additional to the usual uniform you see in primary schools. Yet formal black trousers cost no more than the standard grey, and a child’s white shirt can be purchased for the same price as a white polo. So, we came up with a plan.

First, we made a decision to allow the uniform change to happen after the summer. So parents could budget as they would for a new school year, as this is when new trousers, skirts, and shirts would be bought anyway.

As our focus was to be considerate the household's budgets and think of the cost of living even before the current crisis hit, we chose to go a step further in our support for families.

We chose to fund the blazers and ties. Blazers are more expensive than jumpers, and while we could have funded just the difference, we believed that paying for them in full would allow families to have more money to provide great experiences for their children over the summer. This was affordable for us since blazers would be for year 6 only.

Furthermore, as ties were completely new, we felt the burden of cost should sit with ourselves and not the parents. Through the uniform policy, we ensure that the parents can use basic pieces of clothing that can be bought at low prices to complete the uniform.

In addition, our children receive a free book bag on induction to the school which includes a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Again, this provides an essential piece of kit without burden to families.

We do this because we believe parents should not have to consider the cost of a school uniform when choosing which school to apply to.

Race Leys also assists in other ways. We ensure our uniform policy (see further information) is available on our website and easy to follow and understand. We also offer a market-place for “like-new” second-hand school uniforms, not only reducing costs, but promoting sustainability and environmental awareness. This is something that is promoted in the new government statutory guidance on school uniform affordability, which requires schools to put in place arrangements to make second-hand uniform items available to parents (see DfE, 2021; Headteacher Update 2021, 2022).

Because we care about inclusion and celebrate the rich diversity within our community, we take a flexible approach when it comes to cultural, religious or other specific circumstances. We listen to our families to ensure that our uniform policy is easily adapted to meet different needs.

After introducing the uniform, we saw more children who were more united – it gave them an increased sense of belonging. The unform instils a sense of pride, supporting children’s learning and bonding experience.

All these benefits came at very little cost for the school. We can afford to pay for blazers and ties because we focus on sustainability – just as we do with uniforms – elsewhere in the school (furniture is upcycled, the usual suppliers are compared against second-hand alternatives, and so on).

Of course, nothing is perfect. Some parents feel that the uniform is restrictive and doesn't allow the children to express themselves through clothing. While this may be true, it is nothing new – the old uniform, and uniforms across the country, have the same issue.

And, on balance, uniforms have more benefits since they instil a sense of pride, they reduce bullying due to fashion trends or family income, and they help create equality between the pupils.

Since the uniform’s introduction, the cost of living crisis has hit. We had no idea such an event was looming, but we are very glad we took the decisions we did and stick by them now so we can help the community as much as possible. With the crisis looking to continue, I’d urge other schools to consider a similar approach and find ways to help families with funded, or partially funded, uniforms.

  • Sue-Ellen Lamb ishead of schoolof Race Leys Junior School in Warwickshire.

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