Academies minister Lord Agnew has vowed to crackdown on schools using “monopoly suppliers” for their school uniform – claiming it was a “pernicious way of excluding children from less well-off backgrounds”.
During a joint education and work and pensions select committee session on Wednesday, Emma Hardy raised the issue of the cost of school uniforms, particularly the requirement of some schools that parents buy branded items from monopoly suppliers, thereby increasing costs.
Labour MP Hardy called on the government to encourage schools to stop using branding on all their items, or to make it optional. She asked for Agnew’s support in calling for schools to limit the cost of uniform.
Agnew said: “There is a specific problem of a relatively small number of schools who use this requirement of monopoly suppliers for school uniforms and I don’t like it because it’s a pernicious way of excluding children from less well-off backgrounds.”
He asked Hardy to send him a list of any schools requiring parents to buy from monopoly suppliers.
Agnew said: “I’m a practical person and we just need to tell these schools to not be so ridiculous, frankly. I’m happy to amend the guidance.”
He added: “It’s just mindless bureaucracy on the part of these schools.”
“On the separate issue of these monopoly-type deals, I want to go after them. I hate monopolists in every form that they come and this is particularly pernicious,” Agnew added.
If schools wanted pupils to have an emblem on their uniform, then another option would be to buy a badge and iron it onto a blazer or jumper, the committee heard.
In November 2015, the Treasury promised to put the “best practice guidance” onto a statutory footing to “ensure that effective competition is used to drive better value for money”.
This has yet to happen, and on Wednesday education secretary Gavin Williamson failed to set a date for when the government will put school uniform guidance on a statutory footing.
Writing to Lord Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on Wednesday, Williamson said the government will put school uniform guidance on a statutory footing “when a suitable opportunity arises”, but offered no specific timeframe.
Williamson’s letter was in response to one written by Tyrie, which said that “action is needed” to tackle the costs of school uniform.
Tyrie said that every year the CMA sees a “surge” of complaints from parents and carers about “excessive” costs of uniforms when they are forced to purchase items from specific, often more expensive, suppliers.
There has been increasing scrutiny over the cost of school uniform and the requirement of some schools for parents to buy branded items from specific wholesalers.
Last year Schools Week revealed that an academy sponsor’s uniform supplier was charging almost three times the price for blazers in its grammar school than in its non-selective schools. Our investigation also revealed that one school was selling branded ‘drama socks’ for nearly £5 a pair.
Thousands of parents and children were also left in the lurch last year when deliveries from a uniform supplier were due to a “technical glitch”.