“This Friday, I’ll have the rare opportunity as a backbencher to introduce a piece of legislation that has a good chance of becoming a law. In January, I won the Private Members Bill Ballot, and last month I introduced a Bill aimed at lowering the cost of school uniforms. This week, the Bill will get its first debate, and hopefully move on to the next stage. Although this will happen on 13th of March, I’m hoping it will be my lucky day.
The idea to introduce this Bill arose from my experience as a local MP for Weaver Vale – its something that’s come up on the doorstep and in meetings with constituents. It’s a problem not just in my patch but across the whole country. In 2018, research by The Children’s Society found that parents spent around £340 per year on school uniforms for each secondary school child and £255 per year for each primary school child. They also found that nearly one in six families have cut back on food and other essential items in order to meet the cost of uniforms for schools.
I have been accused of wanting to see the end of uniforms completely. The truth is quite the opposite. I believe in the good that uniforms can do in making pupils more equal and reducing the pressure to wear fashionable and expensive clothes. However, inflated prices for required, branded items of uniform undermine this principle.
Since I announced my topic parents, teachers and charities supporting poorer families from across the country have all got in touch with their own experiences. Many of these are stories of children missing out on their education because of being unable to afford the costs of a uniform or PE kit. The Children’s Society estimates half a million children were sent home from school for wearing the wrong clothes. This isn’t acceptable, and something I hope this Bill will change for good.
The current guidance on the cost of school uniforms, although it contains some useful elements, isn’t legally binding. My Bill would make it a legal requirement for schools and their governing bodies to make affordability centre stage when setting their uniform policy. This would end the single-supplier monopolies that push up prices and limit family choice, and ensure schools introduce a fair and transparent tendering process. I also want to see a limit placed on the number of branded items that push up the overall cost – I’ve had parents contact me about having to spend ten pounds on logoed socks.
The past three Conservative governments have stated on the record that this legislation is something they want to implement – including just before the General Election in December. I’m pleased that both the Secretary of State and the Minister for School standards have said they’ll be supporting me, as well as backbench MPs from across the house.
Now, I’m hoping that these MPs come to the second reading and debate on how this legislation would make a difference in their constituency. If you’ve got a story you’d like raised, please get in touch with your local MP before Friday to ask whether they’ll be attending, and tell them your experience with overpriced uniforms.”
By Mike Amesbury MP