Let’s Free Up the School Uniform Market | Sarah Stook


You see them move in packs in shops, bundling pencil cases, bags and shoes into their trollies. The adult holds a list, looking weary, whilst the child looks more interested in the toys or gadgets on the shelves. For those not involved in this sacred practice, it’s just a mere observation.

No, this is not David Attenborough’s hot new documentary. This is the school buying season, usually going from July through to September. Our readers may remember being that child, some may have even played the role of adult. Whilst getting enough pens and the right pencil case may be difficult enough, there is one thing that seems to cause a lot of stress:

School uniforms.

Schools like their uniform to be, well, uniform. They are very specific in what they like. Certain bags, the perfect blazer and shoes that fit their criteria. It is their prerogative, of course, to choose how they want their establishment to be represented. The issue is that by narrowing the market and the choices, they are limiting what the parent can purchase. 

A 2018 survey discovered that parents spend an average of £340 per year for secondary school students and £255 for primary school students on uniforms. Considering that this data is two years old, it’s fair to say that this has increased. Bear in mind that this is only the average- the same survey tells us that London parents can expect to pay an eye watering £456 and £452 on secondary and primary pupils respectively.

To some families, that’s nothing. To others, that means scrimping and saving hard. One child may be difficult enough, more than one is certainly a challenge.

When schools are very specific about what they want, it narrows options. Some schools require that students only have one specific bag. Others ask for a wide ranging PE kit for subjects only covered for half a term at best. Different year groups may have different ties. A coat may have to be a certain, specific colour. 

If the options are limited, schools and their official suppliers can ask for a lot of money- they know the parents have no other choice. If there’s only one stockist, a lack of stock means parents may be stuck waiting for an item that may never come. With Covid-19 messing up the market this year and pupils unsure when they’ll return to school, the supply chain has been interrupted. 

We must free the market up so parents have cheaper and better options. It is unfair that schools only have one stockist and that their requirements are so narrow. A blazer that costs £30 is a risk, especially when the child hits puberty and enjoys a growth spurt. It does not mean the schools have to give up on ensuring pupils look smart, it just means they don’t have to be so stringent on the subject.

There are ways around it, such as school swaps. Unfortunately, this is not available for everyone. It’s not unreasonable to ask parents to pay for uniforms, but it is unreasonable to ask them to pay more than necessary. Why can’t a parent sew a label into a blazer instead of purchasing a branded one?

With numbers of children being sent home or into inclusion for incorrect uniform, it’s only fair we hope that schools provide leniency in the time of COVID-19. In usual times, we may be sympathetic if a student is put in inclusion for having the wrong lot, but these are not usual times. Children missing out on class would be a lot less if options were more readily available. We may want to punish wrongdoing, but a school is there to provide an education. A skirt that’s more like a belt is different to not having a school endorsed blazer.

As students arrive at school, wearing masks and social distancing, we must remember the uniform. Letting the market out of the gate frees parents from unsustainable costs and allows them a fair choice.


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