Schools must allow people to buy uniforms from any store and not just designated suppliers and retailers, according to new legally binding government guidance published today.
The Department for Education (DfE) announced the new rule for England, saying it was aimed at making sure school uniform costs were “reasonable”, “affordable” and “value for money”.
From next autumn, state schools and academies will be required to help keep costs down by taking steps to remove “unnecessary” branded items and allowing more high-street options such as supermarket own-brand uniform.
To support families, schools will have to make sure second-hand uniforms are available, which will also help work towards achieving net zero carbon emissions.
In the UK, an estimated 350,000 tonnes of clothes end up in landfill every year so the DfE said that encouraging families to use second-hand uniform could reduce waste and bring down emissions from manufacturing new garments.
The new guidance also requires schools to use competitive and transparent contracts with suppliers. If schools need to tender to secure a new contract, they have until December 2022.
They were told they must make sure their uniform policy is published on their website and that it is clear and easy for parents to understand.
Schools are expected to have taken steps to adhere to the new guidance before parents buy uniform for the academic year starting in September 2022.
The new guidance was supported by the Schoolwear Association which represents all those involved in the supply of school uniform including decorators, distributors, manufacturers, wholesalers, direct-to-school suppliers, retailers and schools.
Matt Easter, co-chair of the Schoolwear Association, said: “We welcome this guidance as it takes a balanced and proportionate approach towards ensuring parents get good value for money from uniforms without creating unreasonable burdens on schools or uniform suppliers.
“Importantly, it reinforces that the majority of schools are already doing the right thing and, in most cases, will already be fully, or almost, compliant.
“As the leading schoolwear industry body, we are committed to helping schools understand the implications of the guidance for their uniform policies, and will continue to work with them to ensure the process of choosing a uniform supplier remains as robust, competitive and easy as possible.”
Announcing the new guidance today, the DfE pointed out that its own research in 2015 showed that parents can save almost £50 on average if they can buy all school uniform items from any store, compared to uniform which all needs to be bought from a designated shop or school.
Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “School uniform provides a sense of identity and community for children and young people, and should be a real source of pride. But it must never be a burden for parents or a barrier to pupils accessing education.
“This new binding guidance will help to make uniforms far more affordable for families by driving costs down as we work hard to level up the country.”
Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, added: “For too many years the cost of school uniform has been a heavy financial burden on many families, causing money worries and even debt, so these new guidelines to make sure school uniforms are affordable are extremely welcome.
“Until now, too many parents have had to fork out for expensive branded items rather than cheaper alternatives, while having to cut back on essentials like food or heating.
“So we hope schools are able to start working with the guidance, which should ultimately make it much easier for families to kit out their children for school without breaking the bank.”
Read the new guidance at www.gov.uk/government/publications/school-uniform and www.gov.uk/government/publications/cost-of-school-uniforms.