Headteachers Asked To Relax Rules For Children Ahead Of School Uniform Bill Returning To Parliament
A leading children’s charity is calling on headteachers to relax uniform rules during the return to the classroom to help youngsters' well-being and struggling families meet costs, as the delayed School Uniform Bill returns to the Commons this Friday.
The School Uniform Bill has been delayed for months as Parliament’s timetable was reduced to help MPs cope with the volume of work during the pandemic.
However the proposed legislation is back before the Commons on Friday, and The Children's Society has said costs are spiralling for families who have had to replace items that were not even worn during lockdown.
The Bill would end the practice where schools insist parents buy branded uniform from a preferred supplier. Instead schools could specify basic items but not dictate styles.
Azmina Siddique, policy manager at The Children’s Society, told PoliticsHome: “Even before the pandemic, the eye-watering cost of uniforms was taking its toll on families. Our research estimated that around a million families had cut back on food and other essentials because of uniform costs.
“This vital piece of legislation would require schools to make value for money their top priority when setting their uniform policies. It is not about scrapping uniforms but about making uniforms more affordable for all pupils, and we would urge MPs to ensure it progresses to the House of Lords without delay.
“We know families have been worrying about replacing uniforms their children have barely worn but have outgrown, or sourcing specific branded items in time for schools to return on Monday. While this Bill’s progress won’t help these families right now, we hope that it passes into law in time to bring some relief to hard-pressed parents ahead of the new school year.”
Helen, a mother-of-three who lives in the south east of England, said the cost of school uniform is an ongoing financial worry for her family.
Costs could be cut by parents being legally allowed to use non-branded clothing bought cheaply from supermarkets or shops like Primark, she said. Instead the cost of her daughter’s secondary school uniform, which must all be bought from one supplier, would be £200 if they bought every single item she is supposed to have.
Even with a stable household income of £40,000, when rent of £850 a month is factored in, and looking after, and feeding, the demands of a family of three mean she has to be careful with money, and she thinks the uniforms being channeled through one supplier is an unfair cost.
“To find that much in one go, in that lump sum, is a huge ask. Even something as generic as a black shirt, which could be £4 from a supermarket was £21.50 from the uniform shop. Her blazer was £38.99.
“There isn’t an academic reason. I believe in uniforms but you can achieve that by saying ‘a black shirt, a white blouse’.”
Labour MP Mike Amesbury, who introduced the Bill, has said it should be the case that school headteachers and governors specify basic items, such as trousers and shirts, but not the specific style. This would give parents the freedom to buy trousers and skirts from cheaper shops.
Siddique said that until the Bill is introduced they’re urging schools to be more relaxed about strict uniform rules.
She said: “Non-essential shops remain closed and given the financial and time pressures on families, schools should be lenient in enforcing uniform rules this term. Where possible, parents should have a choice of where to buy uniform and children should not be punished if they are wearing the ‘wrong’ uniform because their parents cannot afford the correct items.”
The legislation is expected to pass report stage and third reading when it is given time in the Commons on Friday and will then go to the House of Lords on March 19.