School uniforms can give pupils a sense of identity, reduce bullying and make things easier for parents. But expensive uniforms which can only be bought from specialist shops achieve the opposite, causing financial anxiety and prohibiting less well-off families from applying to the school in the first place.
Following a campaign by The Children’s Society, Labour MP Mike Amesbury introduced a bill in 2020 aiming to reduce the financial burden of the cost of school uniforms. The new law, formally called Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Act 2021, came into full effect in England and Wales in September 2022.
Schools are now required to make uniforms affordable for all parents by allowing more high street options and removing unnecessary branding.
The part of the guidance most likely to affect PTAs is the provision of second-hand or pre-loved uniforms. Second-hand uniform sales are the best low-cost – and environmentally sound – solution for most uniform items. Schools are required to ensure this is easy for parents to obtain.
If your PTA doesn’t yet have a second-hand uniform initiative, now is an excellent time to speak with the headteacher about setting one up – it also raises money for the school. Otherwise, it’s an opportunity to review, revise and improve your offering. Consider adding school-appropriate coats or PE kits to your sales and make sure everyone’s clear about what’s available to families who are struggling financially.
Out with the old
If your school uniform has changed, ask the school what you should do with items in your PTA stores that are no longer required. Ideally, they should continue in circulation until worn out. If not, options for unsaleable uniforms include bunting, PTA aprons and school bears.
There’s no legal requirement for UK schools to have a uniform. A school’s uniform policy is set by its governing board or academy trust board. It should prioritise cost and value for money, and schools should work with parents and pupils to develop it. If parents have complaints – for example, the uniform includes a long list of branded items or is only available through one expensive supplier – they or the PTA should approach the governors or headteacher. If the problem isn’t resolved, PTAs or parents can contact Citizens Advice, their MP or the Department of Education.
Some local councils offer financial assistance towards uniform costs for parents on income support. Find your local authority.