Parents in East Midlands are fed up with rip off school uniform policies

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Parents in the East Midlands have had enough of paying almost £161m a year on school uniforms, research by The Children’s Society has found.

A report by the charity, The Wrong Blazer: Time for action on school uniform costs, reveals families are forking out an average of £251 per year for each child at a state primary school and £316 for a child at a state secondary.

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.

Across the region, parents are spending an estimated £160.9m per year on school uniforms and accessories.

Parents are so stretched that around 90,000 children in the East Midlands have gone to school in incorrect, unclean or poorly fitting uniform because of the cost, the research shows.

Much of the high cost can be chalked up to school uniform policies that make parents buy specific items of clothing and accessories from specialist shops – rather than allowing them to grab bargains from supermarkets and sew on a badge or logo later.

A survey of 1,000 parents found an overwhelming 95% of parents believe the amount they are expected to pay is “unreasonable”.

Lily Caprani, Director of Policy and Strategy for The Children’s Society, said: “Parents in the East Midlands 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 report follows an in-depth investigation into the hidden costs of school – including uniform costs – by the Children’s Commission on Poverty, a panel of young people from across England. The Commission’s final report, At What Cost? Exposing the impact of poverty on school life, published last October, found these costs were not only affecting family finances, but also harming the wellbeing of the poorest children.

One parent told researchers: “My oldest daughter, they sent her home and said she wasn’t allowed to come back until she had the correct shoes. So then I had to write a letter to say that we’ll be able to get some in a week or so, I didn’t have any money.”

Another described the cost of school uniform as “a constant source of anxiety”, adding: “I am not ashamed of being poor but I always want my children to look as well cared-for as others. I go without so my children can always have what is needed”.

The survey was commissioned to support the work of the Children’s Commission on Poverty, a panel of young people from across England whose investigation last year exposed the hidden costs of school in the state sector – and how difficult they make life for those in poverty.

Children whose parents cannot afford the price of special uniforms face the humiliation of punishment and bullying for not having exactly the right clothes or kit.

The new report finds that parents of secondary age children pay the most for school uniform, with shoes the most expensive item, costing £56 annually for each child. They are followed by coats and bags (averaging £55 per year) and sport shoes and boots (£47). Blazers are also pricey, with an average price tag of £42 for secondary school pupils.

Where parents have to buy from a specific supplier, costs are an average of £48 per year higher for secondary school children and £93 higher for primary school children, the report found. Other reasons for high costs include schools requiring many different items of uniform – including coats, different ties for different school years, and multiple items of sports kit.

Based on statistics from the Department for Education on numbers of pupils in state schools, The Children’s Society estimates that parents across England pay about £2.1 billion per year on school uniforms. That is £1.3 billion more than what parents say would be “reasonable”. And it is despite Government guidance which states that schools should keep the cost of school uniforms down.

The report calls for action from Government to make sure uniforms are more affordable. Many low income families find the costs of school uniform a real struggle. Based on responses to the survey, The Children’s Society estimates that more than one million children live in families that have cut back spending on food or other basic essentials as a result of these costs. And more than half a million are living in families that have got into debt because of uniform costs.

The Children’s Society estimates that about 1.2m children across the UK have gone to school in incorrect, unclean or poorly fitting uniform because their parents cannot afford to keep buying new items of the correct size.

And a quarter of a million children have had their school chosen partly on account of the cost of the uniform.

The Society says it is these children who bear the brunt of school uniform policies which divide children into the haves and have-nots, in some cases leading to children facing bullying and embarrassment.

The Children’s Society is calling on the Government to explore capping the cost of school uniforms to ensure that parents are not paying unreasonable costs, and make guidance on school uniforms statutory so schools have a legally binding commitment to keep uniforms affordable.