The release of the new statutory guidance for schools in England on uniform on Friday was welcome news. We know that school uniforms can be an effective way to ensure that children in low-income families do not face additional pressure at school to fit in with their peers. But in too many instances, expensive and extensive uniform lists have been adding to the burden faced by low-income families.
The new guidance now places a greater emphasis on affordability. It will require schools to ensure that families are not expected to buy an unnecessary amount of branded items. Schools will also have to give families the option to purchase from a range of suppliers, and ensure that second-hand uniform is available. These positive and very practical changes will strengthen the work already being undertaken by schools across England to ensure that families do not struggle or face getting into debt when providing uniform for their children.
With 4.3 million children in the UK currently growing up in poverty and a challenging winter ahead with rising inflation, soaring energy costs, and the £20 universal credit cut, the changes to uniform costs are a welcome step. However, they only focus on one aspect of school life. We know through our UK Cost of the School Day project that it is not just uniform that places a financial burden on low-income families. Education in England is far from free, and there are many other school costs families have to meet for their children to fully participate in school.
Families pay not only for uniforms, but also trips, school lunches, stationery, transport, non-uniform days, food technology ingredients, and more. These additional and often hidden costs mean that children in low-income families are missing out on important parts of the school day that others take for granted. This makes it harder for them to learn, achieve, and most importantly be happy at school.
With the guidance, steps have been taken by the government to make uniforms more affordable in England, but let’s not stop there. Now is the right time to look across the full spectrum of costs associated with the school day and consider how we make attending school a fairer experience for all. The Uniform Act 2021 has demonstrated what difference can be made when cross-party policymakers listen to families and children and take proactive steps to support them. The new guidance will reduce one of the most significant financial educational barriers, and we now need to dismantle the other barriers that prevent our children from achieving their full potential and participating at school.