The open letter explains that some parents in England have been forced to pay up to £10 extra per item where schools appoint exclusive uniform suppliers and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is pointing out that these arrangements may not be offering parents value for money.
The CMA has received complaints from parents concerned about prices and quality as they bought new uniforms for the new school term in September. The open letter arrives just before the half-term break, when many parents may have to buy additional items for their children.
School governing boards are advised to call for a review of uniform arrangements to ensure there is competition between suppliers and retailers, and head teachers are urged to listen to parents and Department for Education guidance and prioritise value for money when choosing uniform policy.
Suppliers and retailers which have arrangements in place with schools are urged to check they are not in breach of competition law which could risk enforcement action, and potential suppliers and retailers finding it difficult to sell school uniforms because of exclusive supply arrangements already in place are encouraged to complain to the CMA.
Ann Pope, CMA Senior Director, said:
Buying school uniforms can be very expensive and particularly hits low income families and those with a number of children, so it is important parents and carers are able to shop around.
We urge everyone involved to ensure that they are providing a good service to parents and carers and complying with Department for Education guidance. We will continue monitoring the sector and will consider taking enforcement action, if it is necessary.
A National Governors’ Association (NGA) spokeswoman said:
NGA recognises that school uniform can form a key part of the identity of a school, but governing boards should make every effort to keep uniform costs to a minimum and make sure it is as widely available to purchase as possible.
A PTA UK spokesperson said:
PTA UK supports the CMA in calling for governing boards and head teachers to listen to parents and carers on school uniform and recommends schools consult with their parent body over the development of policies. The school uniform is a good example of how schools and parents can work together to develop a policy which supports both the needs of the school and the parents. PTA UK supports the CMA campaign and welcomes its focus on the cost of school uniform to help ensure parents get the best value for money possible.
Sam Royston, Director of Policy at The Children’s Society, said:
School uniform costs can be a millstone around the necks of poorer parents, contributing to a cycle of debt and damaging the opportunities and well-being of lower income pupils. One reason for the high costs are policies that force parents to buy clothing from specialist shops, and prevent them from buying cheaper items from supermarkets. We hope the CMA’s letter will prompt all schools to take a fresh look at their policies and make sure every parent is given the chance to shop around for the best deal.
The main findings of the 2012 survey included:
- 74% of state schools place restrictions on where uniforms can be bought
- These restrictions lead to parents paying £5 to 10 more for individual items and the estimate for the total detriment to parents of school age children is £4.9 million each year for primary school children and £5.5 million for secondary school children
- The most common reasons given for imposing restrictions were the desire to maintain quality and consistency
However, a number of schools reported that they were planning to review their arrangements and the open letter and accompanying guidance is intended to help that process.
The Department for Education published school uniform guidance for schools in England in 2013. The guidance recommends that in setting its school uniform policy, the school and governing body should ensure that parents are getting good value for money.