Uniform costs hit £251 a year

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Photo: iStock

Campaigners have called for cap on 'rip-off' school uniform costs, as specialist suppliers, high prices and having to buy numerous items leave many families struggling to keep up. Pete Henshaw reports

Families with children at primary school are paying an average of more than £250 per child, per year in "rip-off" uniform costs, campaigners have said.

Much of this cost is down to school uniform policies that force parents to buy specific items of clothing and accessories from specialist shops, instead of allowing badges and logos to be sewn onto cheaper garments.

A new Children's Society report has also revealed that 95 per cent of parents – in a survey of more than 1,000 carried out for the report – believe the amount they have to pay for uniform is "unreasonable".

Furthermore, it estimates that 220,000 children (primary and secondary) 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.

The report, entitled The Wrong Blazer, finds that 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.

Based on the survey responses, the report also estimates that 1.1 million children live in families that have cut back spending on food or other basic essentials as a result of uniform costs.
In a statement published alongside the report, the charity said that parents were "fed-up with rip-off school uniform policies".

Existing government guidance urges 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 report reveals that the cost of school uniforms averages £251 per child, per year at primary school and £316 at secondary.

For primary parents, shoes are the most expensive item at a cost per year of £53, followed by coats and bags, averaging £44 per year (see panel above for a full breakdown). Furthermore, the report says that when parents have to buy one or more items from a specific supplier, costs are an average of £93 higher for primary children (£281 a year compared to £188 a year when no items are from specialist suppliers).

Other policies that result in high costs include schools requiring many different items of uniform, such as coats, different ties for different school years, and multiple items of sports kit.

The Children's Society estimates that nationally parents pay about £2.1 billion per year on school uniforms. However, parents told researchers that a reasonable school uniform cost would be £100 a year for primary children and £128 a year for secondary (this would result in a much-reduced £1.3 billion annual price tag).

Lily Caprani, director of policy and strategy at 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."

The government's school uniform guidance is at www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-uniform

The Children's Society report, The Wrong Blazer, can be found at http://bit.ly/1DhX9W7

Uniform costs: Primary

Total uniform costs (per child, per year):

  • National average: £251
  • Average cost when one item or more is from specialist supplier: £281
  • Average cost when no items are from specialist suppliers: £188
  • Average cost at maintained schools: £244
  • Average cost at grammar schools: £407
  • Average cost at independent/private schools: £573
  • Average cost at academies: £239
  • Average cost at free schools: £184
  • Total cost that parents would deem reasonable: £100

Average annual cost per item:

  • School shoes: £53
  • Coats and bags: £44
  • PE sports shoes and boots: £33
  • Trousers, skirts and dresses: £33
  • Blazers: £32
  • Jumpers and ties: £32
  • PE t-shirts, joggers, shorts, skirts: £31
  • Shirts and polo shirts: £30

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