Crippling school uniform costs are setting families back hundreds of pounds a year despite new rules introduced to make uniforms more affordable, according to new analysis from The Children’s Society.
In a poll of 2,000 parents from across the UK, the charity found parents and carers of secondary school children are paying on average £422 per year on uniform, and around £287 for primary school children, although schools in England were tasked to review uniform policies and reduce uniform costs from September 2022.
The high cost of school uniforms can be partly put down to the prevalence of branded items that must be purchased from specialist shops, rather than the more affordable options available at supermarkets or high street chains. On average pupils are expected to have 3 branded items, and shockingly 29% of secondary school pupils are required to own 4-5 branded items, including uniforms and PE kits, while a staggering 13% are expected to have 6-7 branded items.
Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, expressed his dismay, stating,
“It’s alarming that parents are still forced to spend exorbitant amounts on school uniforms. With inflation and the cost of living eating into family budgets, we are disappointed that the affordability of school uniforms remains a significant financial burden for many families.”
Russell continued, “As an organisation we had campaigned for many years to make school uniform affordable and while some schools have made commendable changes to reduce costs, this positive trend is still not widespread enough. We urge parents who struggle with the affordability of school uniforms to contact the school and the school governors.”
Despite the legal obligation for schools in England to review uniform policies by September 2022, the poll revealed that nearly a full school year later 45% of parents reported that their school uniform policies had not been updated, with an additional 27% uncertain about the status of their school’s policies.(1)
The statutory guidance to schools stresses the promotion of secondhand uniform options, discouragement of branded items, avoidance of single supplier contracts, and the need for clear and accessible uniform policies on school websites. However, it appears that the legislation is not being widely and strongly enforced, leaving some schools failing to provide parents and carers the best value for their money.
Mike Amesbury MP who introduced the Private Member’s Bill on school uniform costs that became law, said: “I was delighted when the law was passed in 2021 to make school uniform more affordable so families had more choice and fewer specialist items to buy. However, it appears that the rules on branded items aren’t clear enough so can be interpreted differently by schools, or the message isn’t getting through so I would urge the Department for Education to do more so schools make these important changes.”
The poll also revealed that secondary school children’s parents face the highest expenses for various clothing items, with coats and bags being the most costly, averaging £77 per child annually. They are followed by sports shoes and boots for PE, which amount to an average of £66 per child per year. School shoes come in at £63, blazers at £57, skirts and dresses at £46, and jumpers and ties at £42.
The financial burden of school uniforms extends far beyond monetary costs impacting children and young people themselves. Despite the new guidance making it clear schools should adopt a flexible approach to families struggling to afford uniform, 22% of parents reported their child experienced detention for breaching uniform policies due to being unable to afford correct uniform, while one in eight (12%) had been placed in isolation and one in 14 (7%) were even excluded for wearing the wrong clothes or shoes.
A school child shared their experience, saying, “I got a detention for wearing this jumper under my blazer. It is the right colour, but it doesn’t have the badge. I was wearing the jumper because it had been cold.”
Their mother added, “I can’t afford to buy a school jumper at the moment. The cost of living has gone up, and I am having to prioritise heating the house and putting food on the table. There is no extra money.”
The Children’s Society and partners Children North East and The Child Action Poverty Group have developed practical advice and resources to help school navigate the statutory guidance as part of their Poverty Proofing© work in schools. For more information: https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-we-do/our-campaigns/cut-the-cost-school-uniforms
Lorna Nicoll, Operational Lead – Poverty Proofing at Children North East, said:
“The cost of school uniform can put huge pressure on families when many are already struggling to stretch finances due to the cost-of-living crisis, resulting in families cutting back on essentials, children missing school, and experiences of judgement and stigma for children who can’t afford the right uniform. Affordability of school uniforms must be a top priority for schools and is now a statutory requirement.
“This updated guide provides practical advice to help schools remove the cost burden uniform policies place on families and ensure they are genuinely affordable. It draws on the wealth of experience Children North East has developed through our Poverty Proofing© work in schools, alongside our partners CPAG and the Children’s Society.
“This guide is an important resource for schools to ensure all pupils can enjoy and get the most out of school, and grow up happy and healthy.”