As the school holidays approach many parents, especially those living in poverty are understandably worried about feeding, providing child care and entertaining their children over the summer holidays. Stick the cost of school uniform for the new academic year on top of that, and financially things can easily reach crisis point.

Our School Research and Delivery Practitioner Lorna Nicoll takes a closer look at the situation, and what can be done right now...


Preparing for next academic year may not be at the top of the agenda for anyone at the moment but back to school shopping, particularly uniform, is one of the most costly times of the year.  

We support uniform as a means to promote equality within schools but in ways that neither exacerbate differences nor burden families with unnecessary costs.

The Children’s Society’s The Wrong Blazer Report (August 2018) highlighted this and called for action to reduce the cost of school uniforms, and more recently the MP Emma Hardy.

Uniform practices that put pressure on families

Through our Poverty Proofing the School Day work over the last seven years, we have seen many common practices that put immense pressure on families:

  • Obliging pupils and students to buy specific uniform, often with the school logo on it.
  • Ordering online and having to pay delivery charges. Some schools have made arrangements with suppliers to have them delivered to school at no cost. However, what happens if the order is made during the holiday or the delivery happens during the first two days of school and the school policy is that incorrectly attired students are sent home?
  • Many families are put in the position of having to travel to specialist uniform shops. Families without cars have told us that they have had to take complicated trips on public transport only to find that a specific item of uniform has sold out.
  • Specialised P.E. uniforms with both indoor and outdoor options put an additional burden on families. Many students have told us they are cold when doing P.E. in the winter because they cannot afford to buy the school sweatshirt or hoodie and are not permitted to wear their own.
  • There is additional expense in schools that have changes in uniform for specific year groups such as the tie colour changing for each year group.

Keeping uniform costs to the minimum is absolutely the right thing to do for those families currently trapped in poverty whilst making sure school is a place that their children to thrive.

Having spoken to over 80,000 students nationally, countless have described being sanctioned for not having the correct uniform including being sent home, sent to ‘isolation’ and missing out on rewards.

For many, having a branded uniform is not an affordable option and woe betide if your washing machine breaks down and you can’t afford to go across town to the laundrette. And we’ve not even mentioned shoes…

What can be done NOW?

Community School Clothing Scheme

Whilst there is not the time to look at the wider issue of uniform polices ahead of the next academic year to reduce the amount of specialised clothing required in schools and replace it with cheaper, non-branded items that can be easily bought locally, what could be done to lessen the pressure many families feel?

  • Contact and promote local organisations such as the fantastic Community Clothing Scheme here in the North East which specialises in free used school uniform for all NE families: 
  • Consider joining campaigns like those started by Emma Hardy MP @EmmaHardyMP Make Uniforms Affordable @uniformsafford and Make School Uniforms Cheaper @MASUC4

If nothing else when children walk in the gates on the first day of school, let’s not have queues of them being checked and potentially sanctioned for being incorrectly attired. Instead, ask them if they have everything they need, do they have all the required uniform and do they need any help.

Top Photo by didbygraham on Foter.com / CC BY

Our Poverty Proofing work

Poverty Proofing the School Day supports schools to identify and overcome the barriers to learning that children and young people from families with less financial resources face.

Our independent, expert Poverty Proofing Team can support your school with an audit which speaks to all students in the school and questions staff, parents and governors on how they see poverty affecting the school day. The result is an action plan tailored to your school to address any unintended stigmatising policies or practices and to celebrate and share excellent practice.

Find out more

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