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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

If the hon. Lady turns her eyes to the civil service Box, she will see that six out of seven members are women, reflecting the gender balance that is prevalent in the Department for Education. She raises an important point about the statutory guidance, and we will be talking to schools, suppliers of uniforms and all the stakeholders about making statutory the guidance that has already been drafted.

We can all appreciate the positive impact that a school uniform can have on the sense of cohesion and community, but equally, we understand the financial burden that it can present, particularly for lower-income families. As my hon. Friend Mike Wood said, a school uniform can often be less expensive than not wearing school uniform. In 2015, the Department commissioned the cost of school uniform survey, which showed that the average cost of a school uniform was £213 and that the average cost of most uniform items decreased between 2007 and 2015, once adjusted for inflation—a point referred to by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake. More recently, the Schoolwear Association undertook a survey that found that the average cost of branded items for a child starting secondary school was £101 for both uniform and sportswear, and that the average annual spend per parent on branded items was between £35 and £45.

The Children’s Society has today released a report which found that parents said they spent on average around £315 on primary and £337 on secondary school uniforms per child. These reports may not all present the same picture of the cost of school uniforms for parents and will depend, as my hon. Friend David Johnston pointed out, on what is included in the survey. How many pairs of trousers, for example, are included in what parents buy for their children? However, I think we can all agree that the cost can have an impact, particularly on lower-income families, and that it is therefore crucial that school uniform costs are affordable. That is why this Bill is so important and why statutory guidance is needed.

Many schools have, in fact, already made efforts to support vulnerable families with the cost of school uniforms, whether through pupil premium grants or through second-hand uniform schemes such as the school uniform exchange in Barnsley, as pointed out by Stephanie Peacock. I would like to see every school finding a way to make second-hand uniforms available. My younger brother, who you know, Mr Speaker, had the advantage of wearing my hand-me-downs on occasion, and it did not do him any harm.

My hon. Friend James Daly is right that schools should be able to help the poorest families with the costs of school uniform. This Bill sends a clear signal to schools that the costs of the school uniform must not be a barrier to parents choosing a particular school for their child or for a child attending a particular school. School uniforms must not be unreasonably priced, and schools must not disregard the importance of achieving value for money for parents. We will be producing statutory guidance on the cost aspects of school uniforms that makes it clear to both parents and schools that uniforms must be affordable and value for money. We will be engaging, as I have said, with key stakeholders to understand their views as statutory guidance on uniform costs is drafted.