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Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 11:46 am on 13th March 2020.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 11:46 am, 13th March 2020

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Those issues are important and are all covered in the non-statutory guidance. The Bill does not seek to put those items on to a statutory basis; they will remain in the non-statutory guidance. The Bill seeks to put the cost elements—just the items relating to the costs of school uniform—into statutory guidance.

A school uniform is important. It helps to create a school’s identity. It fosters belonging and, with that, a sense of community. It can make background and family income less transparent, working instead to highlight commonality among pupils. It is a “social leveller”, in the words of my hon. Friend Andrew Lewer. For many pupils, wearing their uniform gives a sense of pride. As Florence Eshalomi emphasised, that is a key objective of a school uniform. When pupils represent their school at events or competitions, their uniform plays an important part in creating a team spirit.

The Government encourage schools to have a school uniform because of how it can contribute to the ethos of a school and help them set an appropriate tone, supporting good behaviour and discipline. My hon. Friend Scott Benton cited a school in his constituency that saw a marked improvement in academic standards following the introduction of a zero-tolerance policy on school uniform. That is why affordable uniforms are so important. School uniforms are also important in teaching children how to dress professionally, as pointed out in the tour de force of my hon. Friend Robert Courts. For many schools, a school uniform can be a reflection of the school’s history or the history of the local area, and it is right that schools are able to continue to honour tradition in that way and preserve their long-standing identity.

The Government also believe that it is right for the responsibility for setting school uniform policy to rest with the governing body of a school, or the academy trust in the case of academies. It is for schools to decide whether there should be a school uniform and, if so, what it should be and how it should be sourced. The Bill upholds and protects schools’ decision making in those areas. It upholds all the freedoms that are so important to the Government and to my hon. Friends the Members for Witney and for Harborough (Neil O’Brien).

In an increasingly autonomous school system, it is right for schools to make those decisions, but in doing so, it is essential that they consider value for money for parents. Issuing statutory guidance will enable schools to take decisions within a sensible framework that prioritises the issue of costs for families.