School uniform is an unnecessary expense driving some parents into debt

Writing in the Independent, Susan Elkin argues that the fact that parents on the poverty line are having to spend up to two thirds of their income on clothing for their children is scandalous and immoral…

I have argued for decades that school uniform causes more problems than it solves. A piece I wrote about it for The Independent 20 years ago in 1993 was even used for a GCSE comprehension paper.

Insistence on corporate dress for children and teenagers leads to strings of distracting petty rules which are either time-consumingly enforced or ignored so that the uniform isn’t, well uniform, so why bother?

…Family Action finds that parents on the poverty line are having to spend up to two thirds of their income in August on (completely unnecessary in my view) clothing for their children. That is both scandalous and immoral.

One of the schools surveyed, according to the report, is taking academy status this autumn. That means ‘rebranding’ as if it were a commercial business. Have we completely forgotten that schools are different from supermarkets and mobile phone companies?  And with the new image, of course, comes a new uniform – £225 instead of £99 which is what it cost for the old school. Result? 70 per cent of parents have had to take out loans to pay for it.

…Some local authorities have discretionary uniform grants, but it is a matter of luck whether the one you live in happens to be one of them. There are sometimes local charities and trusts which are good at helping parents with school uniform too – I had access to one of these when I was dealing with uniform issues in a school and could get small grants for needy families. But provision is patchy.

Academies are well funded. Rather than spending money on fancy logos, hotel style reception areas and high salaries for administrators perhaps, if they are determined on a fancy uniform, they should be prepared to provide some of the required items free of charge for pupils whose families are unable to pay for them.

Family Action wants schools to stop insisting on branded uniforms and allow parents to buy plain standard garments such as black trousers and white shirts wherever they wish. Personally I’d go several steps further and ask them to forget school uniform completely. It would save parents money and teachers many an avoidable confrontation. And there might be more time and energy to spend on teaching and learning.

More at:  School uniform is an unnecessary expense driving some parents into debt

Do you agree with Susan Elkin or do you think uniform – as long as it is an affordable uniform – actually saves parent money? If there is no uniform is the danger that school becomes a fashion parade with a pressure on parents to buy expensive brands? Tell us what you think in the comments or via twitter…

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Categories: Parenting.


  1. noreb_el

    SchoolsImprove Both schools I went to had no uniform. They were in deprived areas. I see the value in uniform, as peer pressure an issue.

  2. rrunsworth

    SchoolsImprove Those very same parents will then have to provide expensive designer clothes amid peer pressure.

  3. JintyG1

    SchoolsImprove uniforms don’t need to be expensive it’s down to the school. A polo shirt, school jumper and Greg skirt or trousers.

  4. stewartpayne18

    SchoolsImprove this is an academy issue isn’t it? £99 v £225 cost. Cost of clothing to impress mates prob higher than £225 if no uniform

  5. gasman_g

    SchoolsImprove So long as a relatively simple uniform – it helps a lot IMO. Stops fashion bullying and provides identity for students

  6. Janet2

    Expensive uniforms from a sole supplier send out a message: Asda blazers not welcome here.  I’m a fan of school uniform but think schools should do no more than set a particular colour and let parents decide where to buy the uniform.   It’s not just braided blazers – it’s the PE shirt logo, the sports bag, book bag, jumper etc all with embroidered logos.  You can buy a pack of two polo shirts from a super market for well below a tenner – but some schools insist on one costing well over that.

  7. gingerdisco99

    SchoolsImprove parent of school aged kids across 20 yrs now & I have still never heard convincing argument for uniform – or homework btw.

  8. gasman_g

    SchoolsImprove And the alternative just fuels the fashion “arms race” in schools – even more destructive in my view. Agree on branding

  9. B4Susan

    SchoolsImprove fashion arms race happens any way. Hair, jewellery, jackets, bags. Would love to not have to challenge on uniform

  10. SchoolsImprove

    B4Susan Love the expression ‘fashion arms race; – brilliant. However, I dread the idea of my children choosing their clothes every day!

  11. B4Susan

    SchoolsImprove I grew up without a uniform. Learning to choose clothes teaches what is/is not ok. 99% wore app clothes, even in summer!

  12. cgpearcecornish

    SchoolsImprove no uniform but strict rules on clothing (e.g. no visible labels/logos/text) seems to work well in some schools.

  13. MissGemJackson

    theprimaryhead They do! We gave free £8.99 jumper & £4 book bag last year to all & the rest was carefully selected to be bought from Asda!

  14. LearnWLesley

    “rrunsworth: SchoolsImprove Those very same parents will then have to provide expensive designer clothes amid peer pressure.”
    & mobiles

  15. theprimaryhead

    lennyvalentino I do think it supports a sense of belonging, collective pride, shared identity and in some cases supports equality.

  16. theprimaryhead

    lennyvalentino but if the uniform was a polo shirt with a stencil of my face on…yes that would be a bit weird!

  17. callamb76

    SchoolsImprove my primary childs uniform blue so can be bought from supermarket.High school & the numerous PE kits often the prob

  18. lennyvalentino

    theprimaryhead Ha! Could start a new trend! I have mixed feelings re: u/form but mostly think its a headache for parents and anachronistic

  19. Schoolwear_Plus

    SchoolsImprove As SAschoolwear have shown, #SchoolUniform has many benefits for parents, pupils and teachers alike, and can be affordable.

  20. theprimaryhead

    lennyvalentino I would think that it would be more fuss/expense for parents without a uniform. It’s very much a split issue at my school.

  21. lennyvalentino

    theprimaryhead You just have to double up on clothes though – and growing kids hardly wear stuff out anyway.

  22. theprimaryhead

    lennyvalentino oh god…now I’ve got school uniform companies following me! I take it back, I hate uniforms!

  23. lennyvalentino

    theprimaryhead Really?! I must be blacklisted then! No wonder they never have the size I need in stock :-/

  24. katiecpd

    rrunsworth SchoolsImprove and will have to endure endless changes of clothes to get the right look if they’ve got girls!

  25. Cedarprimary

    MissGemJackson theprimaryhead We also hve free items to all chn for new school in Sept + also chosen items that can b bought in supermkts

  26. rrunsworth

    LearnWLesley SchoolsImprove Yup, those that have the least spend the most on such gadgets for their kids #wrongpriorities

  27. LearnWLesley

    rrunsworth SchoolsImprove agree totally – the latest blackberry phone will cost same as most of day to day uniform

  28. PeteBeaumont68

    gingerdisco99 SchoolsImprove As a teacher of 20 odd years I tend to agree with this. Students should revise for exams at home, however.

  29. gingerdisco99

    SchoolsImprove very happy with current school apart from those bits of nonsense. Now if they change name on becoming Academy….. #grrrrr

  30. rrunsworth

    katiecpd SchoolsImprove But of course girls have to keep up with celebrity fashion! It’s sooo important 🙁

  31. haylerkaren

    SchoolsImprove I work in an academy new students can be kitted out for under £100. Not all academies have expensive uniforms.

  32. suzsca

    SchoolsImprove Why don’t more councils support uniform recycling schemes to offer reasonably priced uniforms – like Rhondda Cynon Taf CBC?

  33. MissGemJackson

    Cedarprimary theprimaryhead 4 summer a dress colour that was avail. in supermarkets with a 1 yr phase in..Most bought new colour for £3!

  34. Cedarprimary

    MissGemJackson £3 that’s great – less than a lot of ready meals! Also going to run a second hand shop once we get a few months in

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