School uniform is an unnecessary expense driving some parents into debt

The fact that parents on the poverty line are having to spend up to two thirds of their income on clothing for their children is scandalous and immoral

Share
Related Topics

Parents forced to spend £285 to kit out an 11 year old with
uniforms, coats and bags? How can any school possibly justify it? 

According to The Big Stitch Up, a survey of 13 state schools by the charity Family Action, that shameful £285 is now the average cost at secondary level. For a primary school child the cost is less – a ‘mere’ £156.

I have argued for decades that school uniform causes more problems than it solves. A piece I wrote about it for The Independent 20 years ago in 1993 was even used for a GCSE comprehension paper.  Insistence on corporate dress for children and teenagers leads to strings of distracting petty rules which are either time-consumingly enforced or ignored so that the uniform isn’t, well uniform, so why bother?

When it comes to parcels it’s the quality which counts, not the wrapping. The same applies to school pupils.  School uniform may please head teachers when they see a sea of neat sameness in assembly.  Some parents claim to like it too, but no one has ever been able to explain to me convincingly how it helps learning and achievement. And, as a senior teacher obliged to enforce uniform rules, I had no answers for the pupil who asked me, for instance, what the colour of her shirt or her proscribed nail varnish had to do with her education.  

Education in this country is supposed to be free at the point of delivery – unless you’re in a position to opt out of the maintained sector, which over 90 per cent of families are not. “Free” is not a relative term. School attendance should cost nothing. If you say to parents  their children can attend a particular school only if they can find £285 for special clothes, then education is no longer free.

Family Action finds that parents on the poverty line are having to spend up to two thirds of their income in August on (completely unnecessary in my view) clothing for their children. That is both scandalous and immoral.

One of the schools surveyed, according to the report, is taking academy status this autumn. That means ‘rebranding’ as if it were a commercial business. Have we completely forgotten that schools are different from supermarkets and mobile phone companies?  And with the new image, of course, comes a new uniform - £225 instead of £99 which is what it cost for the old school. Result? 70 per cent of parents have had to take out loans to pay for it.

Naturally there are government guidelines about this as about so much else. As usual they are toothless and ignored with impunity. The advice from the Department for Education is that schools should ‘make certain that uniform chosen is affordable and does not act as a barrier to parents when choosing a school.’ Has anyone told that to the academy with its £225 uniform? And what does ‘affordable’ mean anyway. Perhaps you can afford something which I can’t or vice versa.

Some local authorities have discretionary uniform grants, but it is a matter of luck whether the one you live in happens to be one of them. There are sometimes local charities and trusts which are good at helping parents with school uniform too – I had access to one of these when I was dealing with uniform issues in a school and could get small grants for needy families. But provision is patchy.

Academies are well funded. Rather than spending money on fancy logos, hotel style reception areas and high salaries for administrators perhaps, if they are determined on a fancy uniform, they should be prepared to provide some of the required items free of charge for pupils whose families are unable to pay for them.

Family Action wants schools to stop insisting on branded uniforms and allow parents to buy plain standard garments such as black trousers and white shirts wherever they wish. Personally I’d go several steps further and ask them to forget school uniform completely. It would save parents money and teachers many an avoidable confrontation. And there might be more time and energy to spend on teaching and learning.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?