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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

I take on board my hon. Friend’s important point.

For the supply of certain bespoke items, which form part of a school’s uniform, single-supplier contracts can have value. It ensures year-round supply; it allows the supplier to provide a full range of sizes, not just the popular sizes; and it secures economies of scale, so I do not believe that we should ban those arrangements. None the less, we want them to be transparent and competitive.

My hon. Friends the Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) and for Northampton South, as well as Seema Malhotra, raised the issue of the quality and availability of school uniform, which is something that a single supplier from a specialist school uniform retailer will be able to deliver.

We trust headteachers to take the right decisions on these issues, and once the statutory guidance is issued, to abide by it. Where that does not happen and parents have a legitimate grievance, however, there must be an enforcement mechanism. As now, if parents have concerns that their school’s uniform is too expensive, they should raise that with the school and, where issues cannot be resolved locally at the school level, parents may raise it with the Department for Education. Were a school to be considered to be acting unreasonably on the cost of its school uniform, the Bill would enable the Department to act. In extreme cases, the Secretary of State could issue a direction to a maintained school under sections 496 and 497 of the Education Act 1996 to comply with the guidance.

In the case of academies, a provision in the funding agreement states that an

Academy Trust must comply with…any legislation or legal requirement that applies to academies”.

That means that the duty to have regard to statutory guidance can be enforced using the Department’s enforcement powers under the funding agreement.

School uniforms play a vital role in school communities and are deeply valued by parents and pupils alike. We want uniforms to continue to be held in positive esteem by families, so that the benefits outweigh the costs for families. The Bill ensures that families will not have to worry about an excessively priced school blazer or forgo sending their child to a school for fear of an expensive PE kit. Fundamentally, we want to secure the best value for families and to do so by introducing statutory guidance. The Government support the Bill, and I urge Members of the House to support its Second Reading.