The Norfolk guide to buying school uniform
- Credit: Archant
The usual 'back to school' advertisements started appearing in shops weeks ago – but this year it comes amid growing concerns about the rising cost of school uniform.
According to market analysts Mintel, parents spend about £1.2bn a year on school equipment and uniform. There is no law requiring schools to have a uniform policy, but the Department for Education (DfE) strongly recommends that they do.
A Department for Education survey carried out in 2015 indicated that the average total spent on uniform was around £200 for primary pupils and £230 for secondary pupils. These results are based on what parents recall spending on uniform during that period.
Recent research by the BBC suggests that these prices, adjusted for inflation, are now likely to be around £210 for primary school pupils and £250 for secondary school pupils.
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'Keep an eye out for offers'
Norfolk parent Jo Malone said she had spent £375 on clothes alone - plus more on a bag, stationery and shoes - to prepare her daughter for her first year of high school.
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"There are a lot of branded items - most of the PE kit, the blazer, a house sweater and a specific skirt. I did spend more than I needed to as we bought two of most items because apparently the school is really tough on pupils who don't have all their kit and I'm concerned that if it gets stolen she'll get into trouble, which she would find very distressing," she said.
"I keep an eye out for special offers on blouses etc. They tend to be half term in the supermarkets and early summer in stores such as M&S, which is the only place I've found to stock skin-kind items for children who can't bear labels and itchy seams."
Michelle Gant said she was pleased her daughter would be going into uniform when she starts school in September.
"I spent much more when I had to buy 'regular' clothes for her. I was amazed by how reasonable school skirts and dresses are in comparison," she said.
Reuse and recycle
Projects such as the Taverham and Drayton Uniform Bank provide valuable help for parents who struggle to pay for new items.
Founder Stacy Bradley, 33, from Thorpe Marriott, was inspired to start the project after seeking financial help to pay for her son's new high school uniform for his move from Drayton Junior to Taverham High this September.
Within a week, the uniform bank - which takes items for Ghost Hill Infant and Junior School, Nightingale Infant and Nursery School, Taverham Junior, Taverham High, Drayton Junior and Drayton Infant - had received donations from 35 families.
The bank is only operating until the end of August, but is in talks with one of its donations points about opening a winter uniform bank.
Miss Bradley said paying for uniforms was causing a summer panic among parents, due to other financial demands such as childcare costs and holiday activities.
Co-founder Caroline Karimi-Ghovanlou said: "For the majority of people we have managed to give them three of each item with shirts and sweatshirts so they have a change for the week.
"It is a very common but hidden problem. I don't think people realise how a lot of families are struggling."
The uniform business
Shane Ramsden from Screens, a uniform supplier for Norfolk and Suffolk schools based in Lowestoft, has noticed a yearly increase in prices from suppliers, usually starting at around 5pc.
To combat this, Screens minimises the number of suppliers it uses, as spending more with a single supplier allows the company to negotiate better prices.
"I would like to think this goes towards increasing the quality and the environmental sustainability of our products," he said.
"Our margins on items are certainly much less than they have been in the past; we rely on supplying lots of schools and selling a high quantity of garments."
Mr Ramsden has found that although some parents on lower incomes do struggle to meet costs, others are happy to pay a bit more for items of higher quality.
He added: "Many parents take pride in their children's appearance and choose to have certain items with the school logo from us, rather than cheaper, plainer options. It is worth mentioning the positive impact uniform can have on pupils and a school."
How can families keep prices down?
- Some parents have set up Facebook groups where people can either donate or swap pieces of uniform. Also, keep an eye out for school events where parents can sell and buy things.
- Angel Road Junior School in Norwich has a rail where parents and carers can donate unwanted items of uniform.
- Shane Ramsden from Screens recommends that parents iron or sew name labels on garments: "It still amazes me the amount of parents buying replacement items for lost or stolen clothing."
- Wait for sales at clothes shops or supermarkets to buy items such as polo shirts or blouses in bulk.
- Shop wisely, said Mr Ramsden: "A £2.50 pair of trousers might seem great, but it may be worth getting a pair of higher quality trousers for £8, which will last five times longer."
- Parents should speak to the school if they are struggling, as they will often be able to help with meeting costs, if they meet the criteria.