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I bow to my hon. Friend’s experience of fashion as to whether they look good or not. He is right that just requiring a certain colour of sock, or indeed a hairband, does not necessarily add to the costs for the parents, but it does send a clear message that the school has very high standards of dress and appearance, and that can have an impact on academic standards and the work ethic of a school.
A number of hon. Members have raised issues that relate to the contents of the statutory guidance, and the starting point for that guidance will, as I have said, be the existing non-statutory guidance on school uniforms, but there are two particular issues that I wish to address. The first is branded items. Of course, it is understandable that schools will often want to have branded items of uniform that are specific to their schools, such as a branded blazer or a particular tie, and, at present, the Department’s guidance advises schools to keep such branded items of uniform to a minimum, because multiple branded items can significantly increase costs. Although the Government believe that that is the right approach, we do not want to ban branded items altogether. Branded items such as a blazer of a particular colour or style may well be part and parcel of a school’s history or ethos and may not be available, for example, from a supermarket.
The second issue is single suppliers. The Department’s guidance already recommends that schools avoid exclusive single-supply contracts unless a regular competitive tendering process is run to secure best value for parents. Again, the Government believe that this approach provides the right balance to secure open and transparent arrangements and good value for money. Competition is key to keeping costs down, as pointed out in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton.