uniform

Uniform discipline can help families through this crisis

Uniform was already too expensive before the cost-o-living crisis, writes Jo Tyler, but we can reduce costs and get another step closer to normal school life

Uniform was already too expensive before the cost-o-living crisis, writes Jo Tyler, but we can reduce costs and get another step closer to normal school life

10 Jul 2022, 5:00

school uniform bill

With the end of another challenging term approaching and as the cost of living soars, causing families to struggle to pay for basics, let alone any extras, the Department for Education’s new uniform legislation comes not a minute too soon. These new statutory rules require schools to think about the total costs of their uniform, keep branded items to a minimum and put value at the heart of their policies.

For parents, these rules are welcome news. I remember only too well the eye-watering price tags on simple uniform items and the speed with which they were outgrown. And that was before the current crisis. Nowadays, a full uniform can set you back a triple-figure sum. That is simply out of reach for too many, and it’s a good thing schools are being told to strip it back and keep things affordable.

Recently, some schools have looked at the pressures on their families and continued with the more relaxed uniform policies brought about by the pandemic response. I understand and empathise with their thinking but have also seen first-hand the benefits a uniform can bring to students at my schools in central Birmingham, freeing them from the daily pressures of looking ‘right’ and the stigma that exists between the haves and have nots. In addition, confidence and pride flourish with a shared dress code and the significance of wearing of your school tie.

So we are trying to keep the best bits of uniform while introducing a range of measures to spare the parental purse. Some of the things we have tried across our trust include:

Keeping it simple

We have already made changes to our uniform policy to ensure most items can be sourced in high street shops and supermarkets, rather than specialist suppliers. The price difference is stark and to my mind unjustifiable. Other initiatives have included buying branded PE tops for students and introducing coloured socks, or team bibs, instead of a full school PE kit. That’s a big saving we find is popular with parents.

Swap shop

We have a thriving scene for sharing pre-loved uniform and we incentivise students to hand in good-condition blazers by offering them a free leavers’ hoodie in return. We’re finding it really works: our shelves are well stocked and this is a huge help to new parents kitting their kids out for the first time

Giveaways

Always a believer in the carrot over the stick, we offer free school ties to new families when they return their joining forms. It’s worth it, just to have that mammoth admin task ticked off.

Spares

Not every parent is able to send their child to school looking smart. Increasingly we are seeing students coming in worn clothing, or shoes that are a bit too small. We know this can worry young people, and is sometimes the cause of friction or unkindness within peer groups. As a result, our schools are keeping stocks of spare uniform, including shoes, to discreetly hand out items where we identify a need.

Own-clothes days

These can be a lot of fun for some students, but a huge source of stress for others. We limit these at our trust, and some of our heads don’t allow them at all. Whatever their choice, we respect it as a trust. Identity is important to everyone, but particularly to young people who are just learning to understand and feel comfortable with theirs. And our heads know best what works for their communities.

We can’t know when the current cost of living crisis will end, but we do know our families rely on us for more than just their children’s education. It’s good to see these challenges being acknowledged. Many trusts and schools are looking for solutions that may help, and I hope the new DfE guidance will usher in an affordable return to full uniform everywhere.

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