Charity says families need help to cover cost of new school uniform

Families unable to afford school uniform despite high-street price war

Almost 1,000 families have been referred for help to a Manchester children’s charity that provides school uniform for children in low-income households for the new school year.

Now, Wood Street Mission has launched its SmartStart campaign asking businesses for sponsorship to help it give away £1 million-worth of school uniform over four years to meet the steady rise in the number of families who need help kitting out their children in time for the new school year.

“Headlines over cut-price uniform offers are indicative of a high-street back-to-school price war and shouldn’t mask the fact that many families just cannot afford the cost of uniform and other school necessities,” Roseanne Sweeney, chief executive of Wood Street Mission, said.

“That’s especially the case after the summer holidays, which involve additional expense and often reduced capacity to work because of childcare.”

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT, said: “Ensuring uniforms are generic and can be readily bought in a number of outlets would go some way to alleviating the financial burdens many families face simply to send their children to school.

“Expensive uniforms, often only being purchased from one supplier, act as a form of selection for many children. If parents can’t afford the uniform they will have to choose another school. This really should not be the case in our state schools.”

The Competition and Markets Authority wrote to all headteachers last year, warning that parents could be paying more than £50m in extra costs due to schools restricting the number of outlets where uniforms could be bought.

It said that schools should review their arrangements with uniform suppliers to make sure that any exclusive arrangements were not breaking competition law.

Department for Education research into the cost of school uniform published in June last year, based on a survey of 1,200 parents, found that the average cost of a school uniform in 2014/2015 was £212.88.

It found that 69 per cent of parents were “very happy” or “quite happy” with the cost of school uniform in 2015 compared to 75 per cent in 2007.

And nearly one fifth of parents said they suffered financial hardship due to the cost of their child’s school uniform.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are clear that no family should be at a disadvantage from the price of a school uniform. When setting their uniform policies, schools should keep costs to a minimum and ensure value for money.

“Our guidance on the cost of school uniform includes the recommendation that governing bodies consider the cost, the available supply sources and year round availability of the proposed uniform to ensure it is providing best value for money for parents.”

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow TES on Twitter and like TES on Facebook

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedInGoogle GmailShare