Annual school uniform costs reach £316 per secondary pupil


Campaigners call for a cap on ‘rip-off’ uniform costs as specialist suppliers, high prices and having to buy numerous garments mean thousands of families are struggling to keep up. Pete Henshaw reports.

Families with children at secondary school are paying an average of more than £300 per child, per year in “rip-off” uniform costs, campaigners have said.

Much of this cost is down to school uniform policies that force parents to buy specific items of clothing and accessories from specialist shops, instead of allowing badges and logos to be sewn onto cheaper garments.

A Children’s Society report published on Tuesday (February 24) also reveals that 95 per cent of parents – in a survey of more than 1,000 carried out for the report – believe the amount they have to pay for uniform is “unreasonable”.

Furthermore, it estimates that 220,000 children have had their school chosen partly on account of the cost of the uniform – something that the School Admissions Code says must not happen.

Also, an estimated 780,000 children have to wear uniforms that do not fit because their parents cannot afford to keep buying new items. 

The charity this week said that parents were “fed-up with rip-off school uniform policies”,

Its report, entitled The Wrong Blazer, finds that children whose parents cannot afford the cost of uniforms often face the “humiliation of punishment” or bullying for not having “exactly the right clothes or kit”. Around 350,000 children are estimated to have been sent home for wearing “incorrect” items.

Based on the survey responses, the report estimates that more than 1.1 million children live in families that have cut back spending on food or other basic essentials as a result of uniform costs.

Existing government guidance calls on schools to “consider the cost” of their uniform policies. However, the report calls on the government to make this guidance – which is due to be reviewed this summer – statutory so that “schools have a legally binding commitment to keep uniforms affordable”. The charity is also calling on ministers to act by capping school uniform costs. 

It comes after a report in October by the Children’s Commission on Poverty – a panel of young people whose work is supported by the Children’s Society – laid bare the cost of schooling.

Their investigation found that families face an average bill of £800 per child, per year because of the cost of school – with 70 per cent of parents saying they struggled to meet this expense.

The report this week reveals that the cost of school uniforms average £316 per child, per year for secondary children and £251 for primary pupils.

For secondary parents, shoes are the most expensive item at a cost per year of £56 for each child, followed by coats and bags (averaging £55 per year). Blazers also cost on average £42 a year (see full breakdown below).

Furthermore, the report says that when parents have to buy one or more items from a specific supplier, costs are an average of £48 per-year higher for secondary children (£325 a year compared to £277 when no items are from specialist suppliers). Other policies that result in high costs include schools requiring many different items of uniform, such as coats, different ties for different school years, and multiple items of sports kit.

One parent told researchers: “My oldest daughter, they sent her home and said she wasn’t allowed to come back until she had the correct shoes. So then I had to write a letter to say that we’ll be able to get some in a week or so, I didn’t have any money.”

Another parent said: “I am not ashamed of being poor but I always want my children to look as well cared-for as others. I go without so my children can always have what is needed.”

The Children’s Society estimates that parents pay about £2.1 billion per year on school uniforms. However, parents told researchers that a reasonable school uniform cost would be £128 a year for secondary children and £100 a year for primary children (this would result in a much-reduced £1.3 billion annual price tag).

Lily Caprani, director of policy and strategy at the Children’s Society, said: “Parents are fed up with paying the costs of stringent and prescriptive school uniform requirements that deprive them of the choice to shop around for prices they can afford. 

“They are digging ever deeper into their pockets to pay for book bags and blazers when what they really want is for their children to receive a good education and a good start in life.

“We know that children whose parents cannot afford the cost of specialist uniforms face punishment and bullying for not having exactly the right clothes or kit. It’s time for the government to introduce legally binding rules to stop schools from making parents pay over the odds for items available only at specialist shops.”

The government’s school uniform guidance can be downloaded at

The Wrong Blazer can be downloaded at

Uniform costs: Secondary 

Total uniform cost (per child, per year):

  • £316: The national average
  • £325: Average when one item or more is from a specialist supplier
  • £277: Average when no items are from specialist suppliers
  • £309: Average at local authority-maintained schools
  • £429: Average at maintained grammar schools
  • £495: Average at independent or private schools
  • £277: Average at academies
  • £251: Average at free schools
  • £128: Total cost that parents say would be “reasonable”

 Average per-item cost (per year):

  • £56: School shoes
  • £55: Coats and bags
  • £47: PE sports shoes and boots
  • £42: Blazers
  • £39: PE t-shirts, shorts, skirts etc
  • £38: Trousers and skirts
  • £35: Shirts
  • £33: Jumpers and ties


Photo: iStock



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