The summer holidays are here. A time to rejoice and worry about what happens to the kids now that their usual daytime destination isn’t available. And, before we know it, it’ll be time to polish the shoes and pack the pencil cases (do we still use those?) ready for a new term.
With the next new term, as always, there’ll be plenty of logistics to consider to enable the bright young minds to continue to access their education. This includes school uniform. This element of getting kids to school inevitably seems to lead to daily exclamations over a lost shoe / the realisation that it’s a PE day / fresh spillage on a freshly washed top.
The latter point leads to a more serious question over the real cost of school uniform. The Schoolwear Association’s latest research states that the average cost of compulsory school uniform and sportswear is £101.19 per pupil per year. However, research by The Children’s Society suggests this cost is much higher – around £422 per year for secondary school pupils and £287 for primary. Whatever the truth looks like for you, with rising energy – and everything else – costs, the lifetime cost of obtaining and maintaining school uniform for growing youngsters continues to increase.
The burden of organising things such as school uniform still typically falls to the woman in the household. Typically, but not exclusively. The burden is not limited to the initial cost of the school uniform, but its upkeep – keeping on top of laundry to make sure that they always have something to wear; mending (or managing the mending of) damaged items; spotting when the school shirt’s sleeves no longer cover the arms and the next size up is required… And in households where budget is squeezed – increasingly common in these difficult times – these ongoing tasks add to rising pressures and cause increased stress.
When The Education Act came into play in autumn last year, certain new standards were set to be upheld. This included The Department of Education making it obligatory for schools to make sure that second-hand uniforms are available to parents and, encouraging schools to keep branded uniform items to a minimum – looking to high-street options as much as possible.
While these are helpful steps in the right direction, it’s unclear how the availability of second-hand provision is governed, and there is no complete ban on branded items. This means that some may be in uniforms donning badges and others may not, which doesn’t help in cases where people are worried about perceptions over the ‘quality’ of their child’s school uniform.
What can I do to help with uniform costs?
Every parent worries about being able to provide the very best for their children, and school uniform is a part of the school community experience, and mostly unavoidable, so how can we reduce the costs and stress associated?
In the absence of wider interventions, there are little things we can do to help:
- Buy second hand where possible – as they grow so fast, pre-loved items can be used for short periods before finding a new home where they can take on a new lease of life. Second-hand purchases help to reduce waste and cut costs and all schools should be able to point you to a second-hand provider
- Use name labels where possible; a small upfront cost which helps to reduce the incidents of lost items which ultimately add to the uniform bill
- When you can get away with it (i.e., they won’t trip over their feet walking into school), size up – they grow so fast that it won’t be long before the item fits perfectly, and then becomes outgrown and you can pass it on…
- For the unbranded items, supermarkets often do good deals and multipacks so if you can get out to Aldi or Tesco in July and August, you should be able to find some options which will also remove some of the last-minute stress.
Finally, there are some grants available to help with school uniform costs. To find out what is available to you, check with your local council: https://www.gov.uk/school-uniform
We hope all families find a way to navigate pressures such as these. We’ll keep doing our bit to raise awareness with the policy makers who can help make things more manageable for all.
How can The Women’s Organisation help?
To support parents manage school costs, we will be running an online Back-To-School programme to help take the fear out of managing money and create healthy habits for the new school year. Find out more and register here.
Our Mind and Money programme can also help with financial resilience and wellbeing. To find out more, follow our Twitter here.