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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

What is important is that schools’ and parents’ voices are heard. The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, however, and I will come on to that in my remarks. We do not want unintended consequences: over the course of time, we might end up with less quality and less of a relationship—making school uniforms fit well and such things are all part of the relationship between the school, parents and providers, which can be important.

Thirdly, local suppliers invest heavily in stock, as has been said, and as part of their contract tend to overstock through the year, whereas supermarkets might only have a small amount of stock, prioritising it in the holidays. However, when kids change schools during the school year, for example, the risk is a delay with the school uniform. I have asked schools and suppliers whether they experience delays with uniforms and how quickly a parent can get a new uniform if one is damaged or a child moves school. That flexibility is important, so that parents do not have to wait and children are not told they cannot attend school because they are struggling to get the school uniform they need to be alongside their fellow pupils.

What the supplier relationship can provide is interesting, because we do not want a situation in which children are left unable to replace a damaged or torn uniform. I do not want to see a move towards purchasing uniforms from anonymous supermarkets. A worry—which, interestingly, has come up in other circumstances, such as the coronavirus crisis—is that different providers might have different colours and slight variations in the school uniforms, which signifies where a child has bought the uniform from, and that can let inequality in through the back door.

My fourth point is about community. Buying a school uniform for a child is personal. It might be a big milestone in that child’s life. The relationships between local—often family—businesses and the schools can be important to help and support parents and their children through the big milestones of starting primary and secondary school. Important to those relationships, and where they work well, are the annual review meetings with schools, to ensure that any concerns or issues are raised, that schools and governing bodies have power in those relationships, and that standards are maintained as per the school’s requirements. Standards need to be acceptable and proportionate, which is one of the important things that the Bill will introduce into the debate.

Overall, the Bill is welcome, and guidance on school uniform costs being placed on a statutory footing will be an important contribution to how we deal with the issue in the long term. As the Bill progresses and the guidance is developed, I am sure that the Government will consult as widely as possibly with school uniform suppliers, schools and parents. Research needs to be kept up to date, and school uniforms must be of the quality we want for our children in our local schools, but at a price that they can afford. Affordability and the impact on families is a prime policy consideration.