A mum who was made “furious” by the cost of her daughter’s uniform has launched a petition to stop schools forcing parents to buy expensive, branded items.
Lawyer Gill Long, from Yorkshire, was outraged when she realised that the school her daughter attends - Heckmondwike Grammar School - had made it compulsory for students to wear branded tracksuit bottoms for PE. Previously, they had been allowed to wear plain black ones - meaning the change made things significantly more expensive.
Gill worked out that the formerly accepted non-branded PE kit could cost between £30 and £40. However, under the new changes, parents had to fork out on branded short-sleeved tops, long-sleeved tops, shorts, tracksuits, jumpers, and socks for a total price of up to £115.
This combined with the costs of other, non-PE uniform items which were already branded, (such as a blazer and tie), meant parents could be spending over £200 on their child’s school uniform - a significant expense at a time when families are already struggling with the cost of living crisis.
“It just makes me furious,” Gill told NationalWorld. “There are families who can’t pay their bills, their rent, their mortgage. We hear about people choosing between heating and eating. The last thing parents need on top of that is an expensive school uniform.”
Gill filed a complaint with the school and took the issue to the Department for Education (DoE). During the time she spent waiting for responses, the government changed its statutory guidance on the cost of uniform - which it said it did both to help parents get “the best value for money” and to ensure “no uniform is so expensive as to leave pupils unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice.”
“Parents should not have to think about the cost of a school uniform when choosing which school(s) to apply for. Therefore, schools need to ensure that their uniform is affordabe,” the statutory guidance states. “Schools should keep the use of branded items to a minimum. Schools should ensure that second-hand uniforms are available for parents to acquire.”
When the new rules were published, schools were required to review their policies - which led to Heckmondwike Grammar School removing its branded raincoat from the uniform list. “However,” Gill said, “there were still eleven branded items... which I wouldn’t exactly call a ‘minimum’”.
Therefore, in June 2023, a DoE panel upheld several of Gill’s complaints about the uniform policy at her daughter’s school, writing: “We have concluded that Heckmondwike Grammar School has failed to have regard to the guidance... as the overall number of branded items has not been kept to a minimum and because branded items have not been limited to low-cost or long-lasting items.”
It added that the school “had not provided a good reason” for why it has made so many branded items compulsory - highlighting in particular the inclusion of branded socks and branded PE kit for both the upper and lower body.
However, the DoE also praised Heckmondwike Grammar School for announcing plans to make second-hand uniforms available to students - and acknowledged that it had made efforts to reduce the cost of its uniform since the new statutory guidance was published.
Responding to Gill’s initial complaint, Heckmondwike Grammar School said: “The [uniform] policy has been updated to ensure there is a decrease of number of branded items needed for students to be compliant within the uniform policy. This has led to a significant reduction in cost for the school uniform.”
Speaking to Yorkshire Live about the Department for Education’s ruling, headteacher Peter Roberts said: “There is a minor difference of understanding of the Department of Education’s guidance. We will ensure that we respond in due course to fully satisfy the DoE.”
But Gill doesn’t believe enough has been done. “There are still too many branded items, which will cause an issue for parents and pupils,” she said.
“If expensive clothing is compulsory, it will start to make kids stand out from each other. Those who can afford it will have a new, pristine uniform, and those who can’t will be wearing old, torn hand-me-downs. This really affects morale.”
Gill also argued that an expensive uniform isn’t beneficial to a child’s education. “I understand a branded tie or jumper to help a child connect to their school, but all the other add-ons? This money could be spent on school supplies, school dinners, school trips - things which are actually enriching.”
This pushed Gill to launch a petition to reform school uniform policies - calling on Parliament to amend its statutory guidance. She has demanded a maximum number of branded/bespoke items to be specified (to replace the current phrasing of keeping them “to a minimum”), and has called for a direct complaints process that parents can go through with the Department for Education.
“I also want Ofsted to be required to check a school’s compliance with the statutory guidance, as this will hopefully ensure schools stick to the rules,” she added.
It is not the first time the issue of costly school uniforms has been raised. For example, a survey conducted by Children’s Society’s in May found that 22% of parents reported their child had been given detention for breaching uniform policies due to being unable to afford the correct uniform.
Commenting on the issue, a teacher told the institution: “A student wearing the wrong uniform might be called out repeatedly throughout the day. This confrontation would have a visible effect on their mood and attitude to learning.”
They added that if a child is “deliberately” breaking the rules, consequences may be “reasonable”, but that in the case of uniforms - it is often out of their control. “Many children come to school without having had breakfast, never mind their school tie. They need to be met with a sympathetic smile and a cereal bar, not a barked order to sort their uniform out.”
Meanwhile, an investigation by ITV from January found that the high cost of school uniforms was leading to bullying and truancy among pupils. “Wearing the wrong or ill-fitting uniform singles a child out from the rest,” the report said.
“This increases the risk of them falling victim to bullies, or playing truant because they do not feel they fit in. This not only impacts on the child’s education, but may also affect their health and wellbeing."
You can read and sign Gill’s petition on school uniforms here.