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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:27 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 10:27 am, 13th March 2020

That is a very good point. Fortunately, I was at school before it became the fashion to have these themed days—for World Book Day or other occasions—for which parents have to go out and spend money on outfits. I am glad that I missed all that, and having to dress up as Harry Potter or anyone else is not something I would ever have looked forward to when I was at school.

It is quite right that we emphasise the value in good-quality school uniform. This ought not just to be about the cheapest price. A lot of small shops provide good-quality school uniforms. We ought to be aware of the concern that in many towns around the country there might not even be a question of which school uniform the children are wearing, because it will be the cheapest option—from whichever supermarket is in that town. Supermarkets provide a valuable space for affordable clothing, but we need to be careful that they do not push out the small businesses on our high streets by doing so.

It is important for schoolchildren to wear a uniform because they may end up wearing one when they leave school, as people in so many walks of life wear uniforms. Madam Deputy Speaker, Mr Speaker himself, and so many others around this Chamber and around Parliament wear a uniform. The police and nurses wear uniforms. Arguably, as is evident on the Benches around me, many male Members of Parliament dress in quite a standard way. Schoolchildren are likely to wear a uniform of one sort or another throughout their working lives, so they may as well get used to it early on.

School visits are one of the most interesting parts of any Member of Parliament’s life, whether that visit is from a secondary or a primary school. We often do the fearsome or dreaded Q&A, where there can be a range of questions—from “What is your favourite colour?”, which I deal with quite well, to “What are the relative merits or demerits of the party leaders?”, which is a far more involved question. It is sometimes good to ask the kids questions as well, and to get them to participate in democracy, especially given the importance of referendums.

In these sessions the children do ask, “Why do we have to wear a school uniform?” and the arguments can be set out as to why it is so important that they do. But I asked the children of St Bartholomew’s Church of England Primary School in Westhoughton to vote on whether their teachers and headteacher should wear a school uniform as well, and that question was agreed to not 52% to 48%, but with unanimity within the classroom. So many schools have school councils now, and I think that teachers should respect the children and democracy; perhaps we should be expanding this Bill. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Weaver Vale wants to seek to expand the remit of his legislation, but maybe we should be asking whether teachers should wear school uniforms as well.