REVEALED: The cost of compulsory school uniform in Suffolk
- Credit: KELLY TWIGGS
Fresh data shows a range of expectations set by schools across the county – often coming at a significant cost to parents and carers. How does your school compare to others in Suffolk?
A huge difference has been found in the cost of compulsory school uniform at state schools in Suffolk, following an investigation by this newspaper.
Figures show that the price for a full set of branded daywear ranges from roughly £20 to £70, depending on demands set by the school.
While some state secondary schools require only a polo shirt and sweatshirt with an embroidered school logo, others expect parents to fork out for a branded blazer, tie, and even specially cut trousers – or threaten to turn children away at the gates.
The school with the most expensive compulsory uniform is Stowmarket High, with an average cost of £68.93 per boy, and £65.86 per girl.
While the majority of state secondary schools merely set guidance for non-branded items, meaning that parents can shop elsewhere, Stowmarket High demands a full set of uniform (excluding shoes and tights) is bought from its primary supplier – with trousers costing up to £26.
The school said it was working closely with its parent-teacher fundraising group Friends of Stowmarket High (FOSH) over uniform costs.
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FOSH spokesman Paula Elwood said: “The school serves a socially diverse community and does everything possible to ensure students are treated fairly and in a way that is inclusive to everyone regardless of background.
“Support is available for those in need and FOSH is working with the school to see how costs can be further reduced.”
At the other end of the scale, Copleston High School in Ipswich charges an average of just £19.90 for two essential items. Trousers may be bought from more affordable high street retailers, such as ASDA and Matalan, if they fit the school’s requirements – specifically: “Plain grey trousers (No skirts, tight trousers and no jeans or look-a-like jeans)”.
On average, Suffolk parents fork out roughly £40 per child for compulsory school uniform at state secondary schools across the county. Often, this is not including the cost of items that can be bought elsewhere – such as skirts, trousers, shirts, shoes and tights. For the sake of this study, it also does not include the cost of PE kit.
Nearly two thirds of eligible schools demand that children wear a blazer, at an average cost of £33.63, while 75% require a tie – with costs ranging from £4 to £10.95, depending on the school.
If all uniform, including non-compulsory items, is bought from a school’s primary supplier, parents can rack up much higher costs – up to £125 per pupil at St Alban’s Catholic High School, and £122 at Ixworth Free School.
Indeed, the average cost of a complete set of school uniform bought exclusively from a primary supplier is roughly £75 per child.
Data collected from those schools which offer non-branded items through their websites or primary suppliers shows that boys’ trousers are more expensive on average than the female-cut, and skirts are cheapest of all.
What do parents and carers have to say?
Mother-of-six Kelly Twiggs, who will have four children at Ormiston Denes Academy, Lowestoft, in September, said the problem can be worsened when schools make changes to their compulsory uniform.
“I’ve got six girls, four of which will be at high school in September (three already there, one starting) and their school has decided to change the uniform,” she said. “So I’ve had to buy four new blazers, ties, a PE skirt and four skirts which can only be purchased from one shop, totalling £214. That’s without, shirts, shoes, socks, new bags and all the other equipment they need.”
Tracy Botwright, who has two children at Hadleigh High School, said she struggles to cope with the cost as a single mother.
“To be honest it does look nice and very smart,” she said. “But having to buy for two at high school and one at primary school this year it has hit me hard, especially as a single parent who gets no extra help for it. I’m now skint till they go back.”
Rebecca Williams, who also has a son at Hadleigh High, added: “I think that the cost of my son’s secondary school uniform is way too much. Plus with the cost of replacing it every time he grows or loses a bit of it.
“I’ve had to save up for months to buy his on top of the summer holiday cost. After buying primary uniform which doesn’t need to have logos on to a uniform which has to have it all on, it is too much. It’s cost me over £300 and I’m not finished yet – and he could grow in four or five months and need to get it all again.”
Chris Rivers, who has two children at Ormiston Denes Academy and Benjamin Britten Academy, both in Lowestoft, said: “More should be done by the secondary schools to reasonably accommodate the limited budgets of most families in this area. A number of ideas should be implemented including the donation of school uniforms by those leaving and pupils who have outgrown their uniforms.
“Another idea would be a interest free repayment plan paying the clothing off over the course of school year. Overall school uniforms are too expensive.”
Julie Marjoram, who has a son at Alde Valley Academy in Leiston, said the cost of school uniform was “extortionate”.
“A blazer alone just cost me £41.99,” she said. “Yes they look smart, but if they made the uniform so you could get it anywhere (like years ago when it was just jumpers etc.) it would be much more reasonable.”
What do the schools have to say?
Helen Winn, principal at Ipswich Academy, said she agreed with the calculation of the average cost of uniform at her school.
“We believe that school uniform costs should be kept to a minimum,” she said. “To achieve this, we make sure that we source the best possible value for our blazers and ties and we give parents the freedom to buy school trousers and shirts wherever they want to.
“We also provide support to families who struggle to afford uniform costs.”
All schools featured in the investigation have been approached for comment. Only Stowmarket High and Ipswich Academy returned the request.
What is the law surrounding school uniform?
The Department for Education (DfE) offers guidance for schools on uniform and related polices, but there is no legislation that deals specifically with school uniform or other aspects of appearance such as hair colour and style. It is for the governing body of a school to decide whether there should be a school uniform and other rules relating to appearance, and if so what they should be.
The latest guidance, published in 2013, says: “The Department strongly encourages schools to have a uniform as it can play a valuable role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone.
“We strongly recommend that in setting its uniform/appearance policy the governing body: [...] consider the cost, the available supply sources and year round availability of the proposed uniform to ensure it is providing best value for money for parents.
“The School Admissions Code 2012, which is statutory guidance, states ‘Admission authorities must ensure that […] policies around school uniform or school trips do not discourage parents from applying for a place for their child.’
“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, due to the cost of the uniform.
“School governing bodies should therefore give high priority to cost considerations. The governing body should be able to demonstrate how best value has been achieved and keep the cost of supplying the uniform under review.”
What help is available for parents?
While the government acknowledges local authorities might choose to help parents cover the cost of school uniform Suffolk County Council (SCC) takes a back seat.
The 2013 DfE guidance states: “Local authorities and academies might choose to provide school clothing grants or to help with the cost of school clothing in cases of financial hardship.”
SCC does not provide any support towards the cost of school uniform.
Instead, the council advises parents to ask their school if they offer assistance.
A spokesperson for SCC said: “School uniform is set by the schools themselves. Schools offer their own support to parents who need assistance in covering the cost of purchasing school uniform.
“Parents can contact their school office in confidence to arrange this. Many schools also run second hand sales where parents can purchase good quality, pre-loved uniform.”
How was the data calculated?
The cost of compulsory school uniform has been calculated for each school individually by taking an average of the cost of items which must be bought from the school’s primary supplier. For example, if one school required a branded blazer and tie, but provided guidance for shirts and trousers (meaning they can be bought elsewhere), only the branded items would be included in the calculation.
If the cost of uniform varies by size, a mean average has been taken for each item.
An average has then been taken for all compulsory items combined for each school, split into boys’ and girls’ categories. In the event of girls being offered a choice of branded/compulsory trousers or skirts, the cheaper of the two has been used in the calculation.
Each item has only been included in the calculation once. In a minority of cases, compulsory items include twin packs of shirts.
Finally, an average has been taken for all compulsory items at all schools combined.
The data excludes PE kits.
Data was not accessible from the following schools, as purchases required a school/store account: Bury St Edmunds County Upper School, Debenham High School, East Point Academy, Farlingaye High School, Hartismere School, Ormiston Sudbury Academy, Stour Valley Community School, Westbourne Academy.