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School Uniform Costs — [Mark Pritchard in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:11 pm on 5th November 2019.

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Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Minister of State (Education) 3:11 pm, 5th November 2019

The way to reduce in-work poverty is to have a strong economy that creates the wealth that everybody can benefit from. We introduced the national living wage to ensure that people on low wages gain a bigger share of the wealth that our economy creates. Also, we have raised the personal allowance tax threshold to something nearer £11,000 or £12,000, so that people on low incomes pay significantly less tax. Millions of people have been taken out of tax altogether. That is how to tackle poverty and low income. A strong economy with very low levels of unemployment means that wages are pushed up because of market forces.

We can all agree that the cost of school uniform is an important issue for many families. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak about it in response to a debate on this topic secured by Frank Field last year, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue again today. If schools can ensure that uniform items are available at a reasonable cost to parents, there are significant positive benefits that school uniforms can provide. The Government strongly encourage schools to have a school a uniform.

It is common for schools also to have a school dress code, and the overwhelming majority of schools require pupils to wear a uniform. A school uniform can play an important role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone. It can help foster a sense of equality and belonging for pupils and reduce pressure for pupils and parents to have to spend money on keeping up with the latest fashions or trends. It can also support discipline and motivation among pupils as part of a wider behaviour policy.

A primary purpose of a uniform is to remove differences between pupils. If everyone is dressed the same, it underlines that we are all equal. With a standard uniform in place, it is harder to tell a pupil’s background. In such ways, uniforms can play an important part in helping pupils feel safe and happy at school. Although decisions about school uniform are made by head teachers and governing bodies, and it is right that they continue to make such decisions, I encourage all schools to have uniform policies for the reasons I have outlined.

When speaking about this topic, I have consistently said that I am clear that the cost of uniform should not act as a barrier to obtaining a good school place. I want all children to be able to attend a school of their parents’ choice wherever possible. No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to or attend a school of their choice. That is made very clear in the admissions code.