The government has published new statutory guidance aimed at making school uniforms more “affordable”, after a legal requirement to do so passed into law earlier this year.
Unlike the previous uniform guidance, which was non-statutory, schools must “have regard” to the new document when developing and implementing. It comes after the education (guidance about costs of school uniforms) act became law with cross-party support.
The Department for Education said the new guidance would mean families will save money from next year. It pointed to 2015 research which found parents saved almost £50 on average if they can buy uniforms from any shop, rather than schools or designated suppliers.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said school uniform “provides a sense of identity and community for children and young people, and should be a real source of pride”, but warned it “must never be a burden for parents or a barrier to pupils accessing education”.
“This new binding guidance will help to make uniforms far more affordable for families by driving costs down as we work hard to level up the country.”
Here’s what schools need to know.
1. Review your current uniform policy
Now that the guidance has been published, schools should review their current uniform policy to see if changes are needed, the document states.
If changes are needed, then schools should work with suppliers to ensure a “sensible transition period”, taking into account that suppliers plan in advance and most sales are made in the weeks before the start of the autumn term.
2. Re-tender single-supplier contracts every 5 years
As was revealed earlier this year, the guidance does not ban controversial single-supplier contracts.
Instead, it says they should be avoided “unless regular tendering competitions are run where more than one supplier can compete for the contract and where the best value is secured”.
This contract should be retendered “at least every five years”. But the guidance goes on to say that reviewing a policy “does not necessarily have to result in changes being made”.
3. Keep branded items ‘to a minimum’
Schools should keep branded items “to a minimum and limit their use to low cost or long-lasting items”.
They should also “carefully consider” whether requiring a branded item is the most cost-effective way of achieving the desired result for their uniform.
“For instance, whilst it may be appropriate to require a certain colour for socks, requiring them to have the school logo would be unnecessary.”
The guidance also points out that a branded item is not just an item with a logo, but any item of clothing with “distinctive characteristics which make it unique to the school or trust”.
4. Have written contracts for branded items
Parents should be able to buy “generic items” of uniform from a “range of retailers” to ensure value for money.
Where a branded item is required, governors should ensure a written contract is in place. They should also be able to demonstrate they have obtained the best value for money, and pass on any savings to parents.
Governors should also not enter into cashback agreements, the guidance warns.
To avoid parents having to buy multiple expensive items like coats, bags and trainers, schools should “avoid being overly specific about such items in their uniform policy”.
5. Apply ‘same consideration’ to PE kit
Governors should apply the “same consideration” to cost of PE kit as they would for “everyday items” of uniform.
Again, the guidance says schools should “avoid being overly specific” in their kit requirements for different sports and “keep the number of items, particularly the number of branded items, to a minimum”.
6. Make second-hand uniform available
Schools should also ensure that “arrangements are in place” to make second-hand uniforms available to parents.
It is up to schools how they do this, but all settings should ensure that information on second-hand uniforms is “clear for parents of current and prospective pupils and published on the school’s website”.
This should “clearly state where second-hand uniforms are available to be purchased”.
7. Think about ‘total cost’ of uniform
Schools will need to think about the “total cost of their school uniform”, and it is “not enough to consider everyday classroom wear”.
Schools should “also take into account all items of uniform or clothing parents will need to provide while their child is at the school”, including items in their PE kit.
The guidance also tells governors to engage with parents and suppliers when setting policies, avoid “frequent changes”, consider how costs affect different groups of pupils and avoid needing additional uniform for extra-curricular activities.
8. Policies should state what is optional
Schools’ uniform policies should be published on their websites, available for “all parents” and easy to understand.
The policy should “clearly state whether each item is optional or required”, and should make clear “whether a generic item will be accepted or if a branded item is required”.
Schools should include “sufficient information so that a parent is clear whether an item can only be purchased from a specific retailer or if it can be purchased more widely, including from second-hand retailers”.
9. Be ‘mindful’ of financial hardship
In cases where it is suspected financial hardship has resulted in non-compliance with a school’s uniform policy, the guidance states that schools would be expected “to take a mindful and considerate approach to resolve the situation”.
10. ‘Full compliance’ expected by 2023, with some flexibility
Governing boards have been told they should be compliant with “much” of the guidance by September 2022.
The exceptions are where doing so would breach a pre-existing contract or formal agreement with a supplier, or where a school needs to run a competitive tender for a new contract.
Where a school needs to run a competitive tender process for a new contact, the contract should be in place “no later than December 2022”, so suppliers have time to provide uniforms by the summer of 2023.
As a result, schools should be “fully compliant” by summer 2023.
However, the government said it recognised some schools “might be tied into existing contracts with suppliers and may not be able to comply with some elements of the guidance until their contract is due for renewal, which may be later”.