As children return to school for the new year, many parents say they are struggling to meet the high cost of blazers, jumpers, skirts and trousers. The Citizens Advice Bureau has entered the row by demanding post-primary schools do more to help out families.
Many schools in the North continue to insist that uniform items can only be bought from an exclusive supplier, instead of allowing parents to take advantage of cheaper deals. One parent told the bureau they had to “beg and borrow to get the money to get school uniforms”. Despite this, they are still unable to send their eldest child (16) to school, as he cannot afford the £70 blazer and £36 jumper.
School uniform grants are available to low-income families. These are between £51 and £56 for post-primary pupils, while there is a further £22 available to help towards PE kits.
Another parent, who contacted Citizens Advice, says that while they are eligible for a school uniform grant, they still have to pay in excess of £100 to make up the difference. In some schools, the PE shorts and t-shirt can cost up to £75. Citizens Advice says schools need to adopt sensible, low-cost policies on uniforms.
The Department of Education issues guidance to all schools informing governors that when they design uniforms, affordability needs to be taken into account. However, it has no authority to legally enforce these guidelines. Education minister John O’Dowd said: “The cost of certain uniforms at individual schools is totally unacceptable and they are probably a barrier to some families accessing that school. Parents should not have to decide what school their child attends on the basis of whether they can afford the uniform.”