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Friday, 1 March, 2002, 16:14 GMT
Are school uniforms a rip-off?
Schools are to be given new government guidelines over uniforms, following reports that many parents struggle to pay for their children's school clothes and are turning to charity for help.
The Department for Education has announced that, in future, schools and governing bodies must ensure uniforms are affordable as well as appropriate.
This follows research by The Family Welfare Association (FWA) which showed that many uniforms could only be bought in specialist shops and could cost two or three times the amount quoted.
At present LEAs are encouraged to help low income families with the cost of uniforms, but the FWA says 29% choose not to do so.
Do you feel that there is still a place for school uniforms in Britain today? Could the government could do more to help parents with the cost? Are school uniforms a rip-off?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
I spend less on my children's school uniform, which they wear most of the time, than I do on their other clothes which are only worn at weekends and school holidays.
Wendy McAnally, U.K.
Why do we need a school uniform?
It does not make you a better pupil, it does not improve your English, Maths or Science abilities, it does not make you run faster or jump higher, all it does is make you look ridiculous.
It is about time this archaic class driven dinosaur of an idea was dropped.
Yes. They should be priced reasonably and available all over not at exclusive outlets at consistent quality. If the uniform says black trousers, any type of black trousers should be allowed, not just a particular brand to enable parents to purchase cheaper ones.
My business is the supply of school uniforms, covering the entire range form the most formal to the most informal. I deal directly with schools and/or PTA's avoiding the overhead of High Street premises, enabling me to offer very competitive prices. By far the vast majority of schools select informal items such as sweatshirts and polo shirts, which we embroider, or screenprint with the school logo. We work with schools and PTA's to make things easy for them. At the informal level we are able to offer a uniform which provides an identity at no greater cost than High Street clothing prices, usually at a much lower cost. Obviously if schools select elaborate garments and expensive materials (e.g. pure wool blazers etc) then costs can spiral markedly, but the use of these items is no longer commonplace.
My point is to say that School Uniforms, obtained through a specialist supplier such as myself are not a rip off. They probably represent better value for money than "non uniform" childrens' clothes.
Having put a kid through the educational system in Germany, I know that all the talk of uniform getting rid of class differences and the rest is nonsense. My son and his mates all went to school in T-shirt and jeans, looked comfortable, and neatly shabby, and were proud of it. They loved their school nevertheless, because it was a good school. And there were kids of all 'classes' at the school, and never a sniff of trouble on that score.
I am now living in Canada and it has really brought home to me just what a good idea school uniforms are. Here only the private schools have uniforms, which really singles the rich kids out for attention. And in the state schools kids get picked on for not wearing the latest fashions, or get mugged for their Nike trainers.
My mum never found uniforms too expensive as the skirts / trousers etc can be bought at High Street stores, and blazers were often passed between families when we outgrew them. It's a lot cheaper (and easier) than having to find different outfits for the kids to wear each day. I sometimes wish that I could wear a uniform to work as it would save me tonnes of time each morning!
When you consider the fact that children spend an average of 40 weeks a year in their school uniforms, these actually offer very good value for money. My children attend state schools which enforce the wearing of uniform. The only items which have to be bought at the school uniform suppliers or from the school itself are the regulation pullover/cardigan, tie and PE shirt. The rest can be bought from any shop: the important thing is that boys wear the right colour trousers, shirts, socks and shoes and the girls likewise - except that girls wear tunics or skirts instead of trousers. Not only do school children of all ages look must smarter dressed in uniform, it is also much cheaper than the stuff they generally 'demand', motivated more by peer pressure than by their own tastes!
How many of these children are wearing major brand and over-priced trainers, jeans and leisure wear when not at school? I suspect the majority. If these can be afforded school uniform shouldn't be a problem, but of course it's not 'trendy' is it?
As I work for the local LEA every day I see children in school uniform and some of the people who complain about the cost of uniforms think nothing of buying high cost fashion goods for their small children.
I am the head teacher of Litherland High School, Sefton, Merseyside. I agree totally that school uniform needs to be affordable. For this reason we allow parents to choose items such as shirts, trousers and skirts from any supplier, subject to them being in the school colour. We sell the school tie at cost, as we do with some of the PE kit. We do not have a school blazer. Schools are increasingly introducing the idea of a school blazer, which is unfortunate but is probably a response to the perceived view of parents that a school with a blazer is in some way a 'good' school.
Uniform is important, not only for ethos, but also to protect the interests of those children whose parents cannot afford to send them out with expensive 'designer' labels. However, if we are to be genuinely inclusive and cater for all children, then the cost of school uniform needs to be manageable for parents.
As the mother of three children, school uniforms are brilliant. I don't need to worry about what they are going to wear in the morning, and they don't need to worry if it is suitably cool. But I do think the school uniform shop in the town where I live has a wonderful monopoly, and can charge what they want for moderate to poor quality clothes. So I would say definite financial assistance for low income families.
Growing up in France, I thankfully never had to wear a uniform, not even in private schools. Uniforms are an attempt at uniformity, not a desirable thing at all, crushing pupils personality. Even young kids might have preferences (like not wearing skirts for girls) and should be allowed to express them. As for the 'designer' argument, it makes no difference: either the kids don't care or if they do, the latest mobile phone, or similar gadget replaces the clothes in the desire to compete. Uniforms are a relic of the past, and a derivation of army mentality, out of place in a modern society.
The cost of a school uniform is probably cheaper than the cost of buying children the latest fashions so that they can look good at school in their own clothes. I disagree that you can still tell those better off in them from those who are not: it eliminates fashion rivalry, helps pupils learn to look smart (compared to what would normally be worn on the street), and gives them a sense of belonging that is otherwise absent.
Jane, Wales, UK
It's not just the high cost but often the poor quality. As a grown-up I expect to wear my trousers for a good few years. My nine-year-old's dark grey school trousers, lasted two months and not through scuffs, rips and growth spurts. Just rotten quality. And as for shoes...
Oddly enough, we saved money from having a uniform. The clothes tended to be good quality and lasted a long time. It took away the designer trainer issue of changing fashion clothes that were more expensive than the uniform. The only problem being that the expense all comes at once, but over a year I reckon that we saved money.
Jon Cooper, UK
Perhaps more schools should follow the example of our local secondary. It uses a single outlet, which sells by visiting the school (they don't have a shop with it's associated costs). I think their prices are VERY reasonable (£5 for a white shirt, £8 for a pair of grey trousers). Quality isn't great, but the kids grow out of the stuff before it wears out anyway, so who cares?
Jenny Radcliffe, UK
Get the taxpayer to fund uniforms? Why not make me pay for other people's children?
My children's uniforms were all bought second-hand through their school at a very reasonable cost, and will be sold back to the school when they finally grow out of them. Surely LEAs should be encouraging this kind of trade instead of using tax payers' money to subsidise parents who only want to dress their kids in new uniforms?
Graham Parker, UK
My family are by no means on the breadline, but finding enough money to send our two children to school in uniform is a nightmare. Most high schools insist on their branded shorts and tops for Phys Ed from their choice of retailers, plus sew-on badges for blazers and now even exercise books and bags are on the shopping list. It's almost double the £135 quoted actually spent before the child even receives bus fare, dinner money, trip money, donations, events etc. My son's high school sends more requests for money/fundraising news than homework and education-related notices home. If we don't allow schools to work on retail deals, then there will be some hope for parents.
I think that it should be compulsory to wear school uniforms. I sympathise with parents of low-income families. However they are going to have to dress their children in something. If school uniforms were abolished the kids from better off families will wear designer or more expensive jeans & trainers while the poorer kids will have to make do with the cheaper brands. It won't solve any problems, it will just lead to more segregation and bullying.
I attended a comprehensive school in the late 1970s. I remember being told that school uniforms were a way of putting all pupils on an even footing. It stopped kids from the well off families dressing up and being singled out for being well off. It also stopped kids from the poorer families from being singled out. My parents had four kids. My dad was out of work for a while through ill health. I seem to remember getting help with school uniforms and having free school dinners. As long as the system is means tested, I see no reason why those that need assistance shouldn't get it.
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