Olivia Hayes is a 20-year-old Politics student at Newcastle University, currently on work placement in our Schools Team. Olivia is compiling a report about the affordability of school uniform and hopes to produce best practice recommendations for schools. She has written this blog to coincide with the parliamentary debate on school uniform initiated by Labour MP, Mike Amesbury.
The bill aims to make Government uniform guidance statutory, meaning schools would be legally required to follow it. The Government does not force English schools to have a uniform, but they are strongly encouraged to do so by the Department for Education.The move would bring the English school system into line with Wales, where new statutory guidance came into force in September 2019.
Mike Amesbury Labour MP, is discussing in Parliament his proposed bill on school uniform that would legally require schools to prioritise affordability. When I was at school, I always knew that uniform was expensive, but after reading an extensive number of reports from Children North East’s Poverty Proofing the School Day initiative, I was shocked to discover there are many more issues surrounding school uniform that often people are not aware of.
“One of the issues I personally find the most shocking, is that in lots of schools, the uniform costs more in bigger sizes.”
This is due to VAT rules, where VAT can be charged on clothing for children aged over 14. I think this in itself is completely nonsensical. There is no reason for children aged 14-18 to have to pay more for their uniform just because they are older. This is an extra cost to an already expensive uniform and is one that families living in poverty struggle to afford.
Not only this, but the VAT issue is also affecting children under the age of 14, as the VAT rules are based on the size of the ‘average’ 14-year-old. This means uniform will also cost more for children who are larger or taller. Even worse, the trend of price differences relating to size is often present in primary schools, despite this uniform only being worn by children younger than 14 and therefore exempt from VAT.
In my opinion, this is extremely unfair and is purely a profit-making scheme on behalf of uniform suppliers at the expense of families. This is a completely unnecessary extra expense and burden that is being placed on families living in poverty.
This is just one of many issues that have been identified by the Poverty Proofing reports I’ve read which hopefully Mr Amesbury’s bill will address.
“I believe that affordable uniform is incredibly important for many reasons but predominately, because in many schools if a child doesn’t turn up to school in the correct uniform they are sanctioned.”
Families living in poverty may not be able to replace lost uniform or may not have the same number of, for example, shirts as their more affluent peers. Children living in poverty should not be unfairly punished for this. If the uniform was reasonably priced, families might find it easier to adhere to school uniform rules meaning students would not stand out from their peers or face unfair school sanctions.
Whatever today’s debate entails, the fact a bill has been proposed on this is an incredibly exciting development in terms of poverty proofing the school day and one that I look forward to following.