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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 14:05 GMT
Schools warned over cost of uniforms
school ties in a shop
School uniforms can cost well over 100
Schools in England are getting new government guidelines about uniforms, following reports that many parents struggle to pay for their children's school clothes and are turning to charity for help.

The Family Welfare Association (FWA) said it had seen a 16% increase last year in the number of needy families applying for grants to pay for school uniforms - on top of a steady rise in applications over recent years.


Having looked at the alternatives, the better option in terms of cost and quality was Harrods

London grammar school
The association found the average cost of a basic primary school uniform from a chain store, including sports kit, was 92 for boys and 114.50 for girls.

The cost increases for secondary school uniform, with the average cost for boys totalling 156.50 (including 33.50 for sportswear) and 157 for girls (53 for sportswear).

The FWA said many uniforms could only be bought in specialist shops and could cost two or three times the amount quoted.

Now the Department for Education has announced that, in future, schools and governing bodies must ensure uniforms are affordable as well as appropriate.


It's important that schools and governors keep the costs affordable

Estelle Morris
Existing guidance makes no mention of the cost of clothing.

The revised guidance made it clear that schools should not exclude children on the grounds of dress, officials said.

The Education Secretary, Estelle Morris - who is at a conference in Paris on reforming education - stressed that school uniforms remained very important and were good for school ethos and discipline.

"If a child wears a uniform out of school they are that much more identifiable," said Ms Morris.

boy in uniform shop
Kitting your child out for school can be an expensive shopping trip
"It gives that sense of identity and pride in a school and it helps head teachers create a sense of community - but it's important that schools and governors keep the costs affordable."

Schools should also be "sensitive" to the needs of different cultures, for example the desire of Muslim girls to wear a headscarf, she added.

More grants

The promise of new guidelines follows calls by the FWA to make it compulsory for local education authorities to provide adequate uniform grants.

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.

Helen Dent
Helen Dent has seen an "alarming" increase in the number of applications for financial help
"In recent years FWA has seen an alarming increase in the number of applications for financial help to fund school uniforms," said FWA chief executive Helen Dent.

"As a result of their parents' inability to afford a uniform, children are sometimes precluded from attending the school of their choice.

"And where they are still able to attend but without the full school uniform, their lives can be made a misery by teasing and bullying from both teachers and pupils."

The cost of uniforms was a burden for many parents, but low income families did not have the luxury of a credit card, she added.

Uniform from Harrods

One father contacted BBC News Online to say he was delighted when his daughter got a place at St Michael's Catholic School in Finchley, North London - then horrified to discover the uniform was available only from top department store Harrods.

The total cost was over 600, he said.

The school's deputy head, Julian Ward, said that, with parents, it had looked into the possibility of changing suppliers four or five years ago.

"The group conclusion was that, having looked at the alternatives, the better option in terms of cost and quality was Harrods," Mr Ward said.

There was also a school fund available for parents who struggled to pay for the uniform, he stressed.

Cash-strapped

The education chairman of the Local Government Association, Graham Lane, said authorities could not afford to offer more grants to cover the costs.

"It's a very expensive business. We would rather spend the money on teachers' salaries, books and equipment for schools," he said.

The onus was on head teachers to do more to help poor families in this regard, he added.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's James Westhead
"The cost of kitting-out a child is getting more expensive"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
School uniforms
Is the price too high?
See also:

27 Feb 02 | Education
'My struggle to buy school uniforms'
27 Feb 02 | Northern Ireland
School uniform grants 'inadequate'
11 Jan 01 | Education
School uniforms 'too expensive'
10 May 00 | Education
Uniform rule for pupils
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