The UK government has announced a new set of rules aimed at reducing the cost of school uniforms for parents and households across the UK. The “legally-binding guidance” will require that schools make uniforms affordable and accessible for everyone in time for the next academic year.
What are the new rules?
The new statutory guidance from the Department for Education, designed “to ensure the cost of school uniforms is reasonable and secures the best value for money”, states that schools must adhere to the following:
- Ensure that the cost of a uniform does not restrict where pupils go to school
- Consider the quality and longevity of clothing as well as the cost
- Encourage and provide the use of second-hand uniforms
- Avoid frequent changes to uniform specifications
- Keep the use of branded clothing to a minimum
- Consider easily-accessible high street alternatives
- Make sure uniform policy is published on the website and is easy for parents to understand
- Use competitive and transparent contracts with suppliers to keep costs as low as possible
- Avoid requiring additional uniform for the purpose of extracurricular activities, such as sport, music, or drama
- Engage with parents and pupils when developing school uniform policy
Schools must have “taken steps” towards implementing the new guidance before parents purchase uniform for the academic year beginning in September 2022. Should schools need to tender to secure a new contract with suppliers, they will have until December 2022 to do so, allowing time to provide the new uniform by the summer of 2023.
The government states that all schools should be “fully compliant” with the guidance by summer 2023.
How much do parents spend on school uniforms?
Previous research from the Department for Education in 2015 revealed that parents could save almost £50 on average if they bought all school uniform items from high street stores instead of from a designated shop or supplier.
Meanwhile, research conducted in 2020 by The Children’s Society charity found that parents with children in state schools spend £315 on average per year for each primary school child and £337 per year on each secondary school child. This was found to be more than three times what parents think is a reasonable cost for primary and secondary uniforms - £85 and £105 respectively.
Parents struggling to meet the cost of school uniforms can request help from their local authority. Councils in some parts of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland offer grants towards uniform costs. Generally speaking, however, these are only available for children who are already receiving free school meals.
You can find out if your local authority provides help with school uniform costs on the GOV.UK website. To work out if you are eligible for a school uniform grant, head over to your local council’s website.
How to cut the cost of school uniform
1. Check if you can get help from your local council or school
First things first, check if your local authority provides help towards the cost of school uniform using the government's postcode checker. If your council doesn’t provide any support, ask your child’s school directly, as they may be able to supply you with second-hand uniform.
2. Ask around to see if anyone has spares
We all know that kids grow quickly, so if your friends or family have older children, you might find they have blazers or backpacks they no longer use that you can put to good use. Similarly, the school itself may sell second-hand items, with the added bonus that the money goes towards helping the school.
3. Make use of social media
Check to see if you can bag yourself some pre-loved uniforms on social media, such as Facebook Marketplace, where you can often find branded uniform for at least half their usual cost. This is a particularly good option for pricier items, such as blazers, that you may struggle without purchasing direct from your school or their supplier.
4. Opt for cheaper supermarket uniform
If you have to purchase new uniform pieces for the new school year, opt for supermarket alternatives if you can, which are often significantly cheaper than a school’s named supplier. Here you can bag yourself plain coloured clothes, such as shirts and skirts, and keep an eye out for sales too - shops like M&S and Sainsbury’s frequently have generous discounts on school uniform items.