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Now law, the School Uniform Bill will help keep clothing costs down for struggling families

Now law, the School Uniform Bill will help keep clothing costs down for struggling families
3 min read

The School Uniform Bill will ensure schools in England develop uniform policies that put affordability centre stage. For the first time, legally binding guidance will be issued to governors and headteachers.

I feel like I’ve won the Lottery on behalf of hard-pressed families everywhere.

In January 2020 I was the first name to be drawn in the ballot for a private member’s bill aimed at slashing the cost of school uniforms across England.

Now, after a long and bumpy journey, it’s finally become law.

Big thanks must go to supporters including the Children’s Society, the National Education Union and the Sunday People for its campaigning journalism, as well as to Baroness Ruth Lister for skilfully steering the bill through the Lords. Cross-party support from across both Houses is very much appreciated.

Having to shell out excessive amounts on school uniforms seemed like a misplaced priority

I am absolutely delighted it’s actually happening because this will make a real difference. And it will make even more of a difference due to the devastating impact of Covid.

Last spring, we entered lockdown to protect our NHS and save lives. On top of a health crisis, families were faced with the economic hammer-blow of job losses and furlough.

Having to shell out excessive amounts on school uniforms seemed like a misplaced priority more than ever before. Some parents were forced to make a choice between putting food on the table or paying for expensive uniforms. That’s just not right.   

What this law will do is ensure schools in England develop uniform policies that put affordability centre stage. For the first time, legally binding guidance will be issued to governors and headteachers.

In the past many schools have insisted parents buy branded clothing items, often from a single supplier, leading to much higher costs than at their local supermarket. My law means schools will have to keep branded items to a minimum and set up a fair and open tendering process instead of operating a never-ending monopoly with one firm.

Because research by the Children’s Society reveals families have been spending an average of £337 per year on uniform for each child at secondary school and £315 on average per child at primary school.

I’ve received correspondence from struggling families about what happened to their children. Like Emily, for example, who, rather than facing the indignity of her classmates knowing her family did not have the money to replace lost PE uniform, asked her mum to write a sick note saying that she was injured.

Then there was Callum, put in detention because his parents did not have the cash to replace his blazer, which no longer fitted him because of a growth spurt.

I feel passionate about relieving child poverty and boosting the life chances for youngsters like Emily and Callum. School uniform ought to keep clothing costs down for struggling families. It ought to act as a social leveller in making all children feel included, not excluded.

In practice it’s not always worked out that way. I hope my law can play its part in making life just a little easier for low income families and help give their children more of chance to fulfil their dreams by removing a few obstacles in the road.

 

Mike Amesbury is the Labour MP for Weaver Vale and shadow housing and planning minister.

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