New guidance promised on branded school uniforms

Children wearing school uniform Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The joint session of the Education and Work and Pensions Committees looked at the financial difficulties faced by parents

A government minister has pledged to change school uniform guidance after a campaign to cut costs for parents.

An inquiry heard blazers, trousers and socks can cost up to three times more when embroidered with school logos.

This has reportedly led to some parents going hungry so they can afford to buy school uniforms for their children.

Education minister Lord Agnew said: "We need to just tell these schools to not be so ridiculous, and I'm happy to amend the guidance."

He told the parliamentary inquiry into school holiday poverty: "It's mindless bureaucracy on the part of these schools.

"They don't realise that actually this is an additional burden for a family that's not well off."

Image caption Emma Hardy MP started the RE:uniform scheme in Hull encouraging parents to donate old or unwanted uniform

There is no legislation in place relating to school uniform in England, however the Department for Education expects schools to take account of its published guidance which includes ensuring that uniform is affordable.

The current guidance says schools should keep compulsory branded items to a minimum.

Last year, a Children's Society survey of 1,000 parents saw nearly one in six families blaming school uniform costs for having to cut back on food and other basic essentials.

Emma Hardy, Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle, launched a uniform recycling scheme in Hull which she says 500 families used ahead of the new school year.

Giving evidence to the inquiry, the former teacher called on the government to introduce a cap on the cost of uniforms while encouraging schools to use less branding - and to make it optional.

She said: "If you allow parents to shop around and buy non-branded items then they can get them for really reasonable prices, and that's what my campaign's been about."

Lord Agnew told her: "I 100% support you, everything you say makes perfect sense."

Inquiry chair Frank Field MP said new guidance would make a difference to families who find school uniforms "a terror".

He called on Lord Agnew to provide further details of the amended guidance in writing.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption School uniform from supermarkets tends to be less expensive than government estimates

The inquiry also heard from Gateshead MP Ian Mearns, who said: "It seems to me that some schools actually use expensive uniform as a method of social selection in terms of their pupil intake.

"Other schools will also be involved with a single retailer who are providing branded items and getting a financial incentive for doing so."

Lord Agnew also pledged to go after schools which have a requirement for so-called monopoly suppliers, calling this a "pernicious way of excluding children from less well off backgrounds".

The Department for Education has released an exchange between education secretary Gavin Williamson MP and the Competition and Markets Authority which is calling for action over "restrictive purchasing policies".

"The guidance is clear that schools should avoid single-supplier contracts," said Mr Williamson. "But where schools do choose to enter into such contracts, they should ensure these are subject to a regular competitive tendering process to ensure value for parents."

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