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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:58 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston 9:58 am, 13th March 2020

It is a pleasure to speak in today’s debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Mike Amesbury on bringing forward this Bill.

I grew up in a family shop that also sold school uniforms for local schools in Hounslow. Interestingly, I remember how as a child the relationship that my parents had with other parents was important as was the relationship that they had with the local schools.

This Bill requires the Government to make new statutory guidance for all schools on the costs aspect of school uniforms, and it is right to ensure that schools give priority to the consideration of cost and affordability when setting and implementing school uniform policy. The Bill is rightly pro-uniform, because uniform acts as an equaliser between pupils, and many charities also support the campaign.

In preparing for the debate, I conducted a short survey of my schools, local suppliers and parents. I am also grateful to Prashant at School Bells, a local company providing uniforms for many local schools, for his input.

The Bill seeks to make school uniforms more affordable for parents, and I thank the Children’s Society for its work, although its research on costs is worrying. It is also important to note that costs show great variation across the country. The schools I consulted suggested that the cost of their uniforms was considerably lower than the average, but an average is an average, and it shows high rates being charged across the country. We have to have a much more level playing field.

Schools sometimes foot the bill for school uniforms. A few years ago, I undertook some research covered by The Guardian. Schools were hiding the fact that parents could not afford the school uniform and—from the experience of shops in my constituency—telling the supplier to cover the cost for them, allowing the parents to have the uniforms with the school paying later. In recent years, that has got worse, as family incomes have been squeezed. That is another example of the hidden costs and price of austerity.