The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 12th October:
As we move into Autumn, the memory for many pupils of starting their new school year may already seem long ago.
But for parents, that memory may not feel so distant.
Because many were forced to fork out increasingly extortionate amounts for compulsory school uniforms – expenditure that may still be having an impact on their budgets today.
In one Barnsley school, for instance, uniforms required to be worn by students can cost over £120.
That’s before parents have considered the extras that may be required for sports, dance or drama lessons, or uniforms for their other children.
The nature of the uniform can often increase the price, such as school logo embroidery, or the limited number of outlets from which uniforms can be bought means shops can charge higher prices.
It’s not just here in Barnsley that parents are affected, either.
Across the UK, 98 per cent of secondary schools wear compulsory uniforms.
And according to a recent survey, four in ten parents said they spent between £101 and £200 on uniforms per child, with over a quarter spending between £201 and £300.
When families in Barnsley are already struggling to get by, it’s not right that compulsory costs for their child’s education could push them further into financial difficulty.
The previous Labour Government strengthened provisions under the Schools Admissions Code which ensured limits in the prices of uniforms and a broad range of providers to ensure costs stayed low.
Unfortunately, much of this guidance was removed by the Coalition Government that followed.
It’s time these provisions were reinstated by this Government, and local authorities were given increased powers to enforce this Code and help keep costs down – something I spoke about in Parliament this week.
They could make sure there’s not just one supplier but several high street shops and supermarkets, and schools use coloured uniforms rather than require more expensive branding and logos.
There are great benefits to uniforms, from instilling pride and a sense of community in a school, to supporting good behaviour and discipline.
But they must remain affordable, and we should do all we can to ensure no parent is forced to spend too much money for their child’s education when times are already so hard.