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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.

Your reaction

In my current school, while the uniform may not be as bad as others it is boooring.

Matt, UK
As a fourteen-year old currently in Year 10, I could talk for hours about school uniform. My primary school was very lenient about uniform - any black trousers, any white top and any shoes (except massive heels). I never hated wearing this "uniform" because I could pick out what t-shirt or trainers I wanted to wear on a particular day, rather than having my attire dictated by school rules. In my current school, while the uniform may not be as bad as others (I'm not required to wear a blazer - hoorah!) it is boooring. Everyone dresses the same, and because of this, many students "modify" the uniform - short ties, untucked shirts, nose studs, trainers etc, which all lead to trouble with teachers. Perhaps if uniform was abolished this wouldn't happen, and everyone would feel more comfortable. Yes, you may argue about the "barriers between rich and poor", but I can honestly say, after ten years of school, I have NEVER seen anyone picked on for their clothes. Oh, and could Graham Parker (below) please tell me where I can find a D&G top for 35?? Bargain.
Matt, UK

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.
Caron, England

Why do some people try to change the rules to suit themselves?

Wendy McAnally, U.K.
I always thought that uniforms were a good idea and if parents can afford 80 for trainers surely they can afford to kit their children out in proper clothes. Uniform is often a lot cheaper than a different outfit every day. The school uniform is part of the acceptance of the rules of the school - why do some people then try to change the rules to suit themselves?
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.
Ian Thomas, England

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.
Elizabeth Coldwell-hall, England

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.
Paul B, Oxfordshire

Why should we fear individual expression?

Rudy, UK
School uniforms are another example of the archaic and cluttered thinking that mars all aspects of British society. In a diverse world why should we fear individual expression or banish people because we don't like their hair cut or clothing. School uniforms are a perfect example of fearful, older generations imposing their values on subsequent ones.
Rudy, UK

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.
Tom Beck, England

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!
Josie, UK/Canada

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!
Alina Hancock, United Kingdom

Cheap, smart and very effective

Amanda, UK
Junior schools at least could follow the example of my four year old daughter's nursery school which has a simple uniform consisting of a long-sleeved red gingham overall worn over her own clothes: cheap, smart and very effective at reducing mess and wear and tear on whatever is worn underneath.
Amanda, UK

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?
Dave, UK

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.
Alan, UK

Uniforms are just overalls to wear during the school day

Jennifer, UK
It is not necessarily true that school uniforms mean that the barriers between richer and poorer families are broken down. It is 10 years since I left school, but I can still remember being 'told' by other children in the class that I had the 'wrong' school bag (as it wasn't a label sports bag but a department store home-brand version), the 'wrong' shoes, the 'wrong' calculator and so on. I am the eldest of five siblings and most of my school uniform was second-hand from friends and neighbours and the items were then passed on to my younger sisters. To me, uniforms are just overalls to wear during the school day. The work that is done is more important than the clothes worn to do it.
Jennifer, UK

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.
Jim Donnelly, England

Uniform helps children learn something about acceptable standards of dress

Sarah, UK
Now that I am at work I realise that school uniform made life easy, no agonising about what to wear in the mornings and favourite clothes saved for the weekend. Uniform also helps children learn something about acceptable standards of dress (as long as it's something other than a tracksuit). As for the cost, compared with a Nike sweatshirt or trainers school uniform is generally cheap and hardwearing. If people were a little more inventive schools could come up with better ways of circumventing the problem other than abolishing uniform or begging for handouts to afford it. I went to a private school in the 1980s and even though the parents were usually very well off the school used to hold uniform sales. Each term or year parents would donate outgrown uniforms to the sale where it would be sold on at a token price and the proceeds went to charity. This would surely help a lot of parents with the burden of cost, or is the consumer society so snobbish that they would rather fork out for overpriced "designer" gear than allow their children to wear second hand clothes?
Sarah, UK

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.
Rachel, UK

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.
Sansra, UK

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.
Alex, UK

Why can't schools run their own second-hand uniform shops?

Jane, Wales, UK
Why can't schools run their own second-hand uniform shops? Then parents could sell items as their children grow out of them and buy second-hand uniforms at a reduced price. To keep buying brand new uniform when there could be a virtually endless supply of second hand clothing seems very wasteful.
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...
Simon Mallett, UK

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.
Steve, Leeds, UK

School uniforms are a great leveller and give a sense of identity

Jon Cooper, UK
Ditching school uniforms would lead to fashion shows in the playground, and children from poorer families might be made to suffer and feel inferior. School uniforms are a great leveller and give a sense of identity. I'm all in favour of them, and in my experience having one school uniform is a lot cheaper than five changes of trendy clothes per week!
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?
John, England

Simplify the uniforms so that parents can shop around

Jenny Radcliffe, UK
The solution is to simplify the uniforms so that parents can shop around. Scrap blazers - insist on plain black jumpers, say. No more ties that have to be bought at a shop - go for open-necked shirts which look just as smart when you consider that kids deliberately go out of their way to make their ties look silly. Uniformity of appearance doesn't mean that people have to buy everything in the same shop, after all.
Jenny Radcliffe, UK

Get the taxpayer to fund uniforms? Why not make me pay for other people's children?
Neil, UK

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?
Hugh, UK

Nobody ever got mugged for their school blazer

Graham Parker, UK
So the average cost of a school uniform is over 100. Compare that with the cost of dressing a kid for a school that doesn't have a uniform: Nike trainers 80; Dolce & Gabbana top 35; Gap trousers 30 and so on. School uniform is a cheaper option and it's the only way of preventing children from less well-off families from suffering discrimination because their parents can't afford the fashionable brands. We see children getting mugged for their trainers. Nobody ever got mugged for their school blazer.
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.
Nick McKeown, UK

Uniforms do nothing to hide the difference between pupils with rich parents and those from poorer families

Phil, UK
I always hated uniform. Apparently if worn incorrectly (or not at all) one became either unable to be taught or incapable of learning. The logic always eluded me. Uniforms did nothing to hide the difference between pupils with rich parents and those from poorer families and was generally more expensive than ordinary clothes. The point of it is still lost on me after over 25 years.
Phil, UK

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.
AJB, England

Most of them would afford the uniforms if they didn't spend two nights a week in the pub

Bruce, UK
Most of them would probably be able to afford the uniforms if they didn't spend two or more nights a week in the pub. Mostly it's just a matter of prioritising their spending to the necessary items instead of the discretionary items.
Bruce, UK

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.
Andy P, London, UK

See also:

27 Feb 02 | Education
Schools warned over cost of uniforms
27 Feb 02 | Education
'My struggle to buy school uniforms'
27 Feb 02 | Education
Parents 'struggle to buy uniforms'
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