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School Uniform Costs — [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:47 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 2:47 pm, 5th November 2019

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Pritchard, for what inevitably will be the last time in this Parliament. It is also a pleasure to participate in a Westminster Hall debate; I have spoken in a large number of them and I am a happy to finish this Parliament speaking in one. The third pleasure is to follow the speech by Emma Hardy.

Let me start with where we agree. I would like to hear from the Minister what the plans are for the guidance on school uniforms and whether it will be made statutory. For the reasons the hon. Lady set out, I fully accept the benefit of making that guidance statutory, as I think it will help. Where we tend to differ is in our attitude to school uniforms as a whole. I regard them as important and I have seen evidence, which I am happy to make available, that schools with a school uniform perform better and their children feel much more cohesive and part of something bigger. I would hate to lose that and, thinking back to my own time at school, the feeling of collectiveness that followed from it.

However, I agree that we need to help with the cost of school uniforms, which averages around £350. That is quite a lot, particularly for families at the bottom end of the pay scale. Interesting new methods have been developed to tackle that. I will come to one of them, but my hon. Friend Sir Paul Beresford mentioned another: putting pressure on organisations to allow badges to be sewn on to standard clothing, which is much cheaper and is accessible to everyone.

In my experience, many schools—I have not done a calculation on this, so I will not say most—take this issue into account and have their own schemes to help disadvantaged families afford uniforms, where one is in existence. Such schemes are very helpful. However, one of the most interesting schemes I have come across uses the internet to make what are, in effect, second-hand clothes much more widely available. I see a lot of attraction in that. People might argue, “Well, it’s second-hand clothing,” but the person who founded the charity that established that scheme was clear when she said, “Well, heavens; a school uniform, whether it’s new or not, looks second hand within two weeks of being worn.” That is absolutely true, so I do not think the fact that the clothing is second hand should play a major part in preventing anyone from being able to engage in that sort of transaction, and it has a material impact on the cost of the items concerned.

This is an important issue to have raised at the end of this Parliament. As I said, it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response about the statutory basis on which school clothing is to be founded.