The Great School Uniform Rip-Off

School uniforms are a rip-off in England.

Despite years of being taken for a ride, parents are still forking out for bits of kit that are made for next to nothing.

Although some of the supermarket chains jumped in and tried to save the day, some schools haven’t joined forces.

Some schools align themselves with a supplier and give parents little choice but to buy a uniform from them.

The thing is, some of these providers are charging through the roof for dirt cheap polyester….and getting away with it.

Suppliers are also incredibly crafty and deliberately hide their prices from public view so that you can’t compare prices on their websites.

That is unless you know someone from a neighbouring school who can tell you.

This is where the real rip-off is. The supplier will have one set of prices for a state school but will have inflated ‘designer’ prices for independent schools “because the parents can afford it.”

But many can’t. Not everyone who attends an independent has wealthy parents and even if some have bank balances in the pink that doesn’t mean they are happy to pay more.

I can confidently say that state schools have an identical P.E. kit to some independent schools and yet the independent schools will be paying more. We are talking about the same materials. The maths doesn’t add up and that is daylight robbery.

Some suppliers will deny that there is a difference or they’ll point to the ‘brand’ and school logos. Quite frankly, that’s just insulting our intelligence.

The uniforms aren’t particularly good quality or durable and looking at the labels and where they are made you know they are being made for pennies. We aren’t talking silk here but cheap as chips polyester mixes. It gets craftier – some items of uniform don’t tell you where they are made and that’s done deliberately so you can’t source and compare.

For low-income families, expensive school uniforms are a huge hit on their family finances. For high-income families, expensive school uniforms might not hit the pocket in the same way but why should they be paying boutique prices?

Schools are to blame here because they team-up with a supplier and parents have no choice but to go with them.

Will things change?

They will.

MP Mike Amesbury has worked hard to get a change in the law allowing parents to shop around instead of being forced to use a single supplier. The School Uniforms Bill has recently been passed through Parliament.

This new law will force the Government to follow the example of Wales, where school heads can specify basic items, such as trousers and shirts, but not styles.

We are waiting for full guidance on how schools will need to enforce the law as this hasn’t yet been published and we don’t know when it could come into effect, but this new law will apply only to state schools.

Will independent school parents still be paying high prices for cheap kit?

Yes they will.

School uniforms have never been a level-playing field and although this law might change things for the better for the many, it won’t make the slightest difference for others who will continue to be ripped-off because “the parents can afford it”.

What about those parents who ‘send’ their children to independent schools that can’t afford it? There is this incredible misconception that all parents are loaded.

There are many hard-working parents struggling to send their children to an independent and there are plenty of families on bursaries that can’t afford it.

Independent schools need to take a look at what they can do to make uniforms more affordable and keep costs and suppliers under review and not assume everyone can afford inflated prices.

Until independent schools can demonstrate how best value has been achieved (especially a sole supplier arrangement) the great uniform rip-off continues.

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