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Schools told to review policy on uniform

The Office of Fair Trading has written to almost 30,000 state primaries and secondaries across the UK raising alarm over the cost of uniforms, telling them to review school uniform policies.

It is feared that parents are being forced to pay between £5 and £10 too much for each item of clothing – costing families at least £52m nationally. The watchdog warned that three-quarters of state schools were placing “restrictions” on where uniforms could be purchased.

In most cases, families are being required to turn to one specialist supplier – enlisted as a stockist by individual schools – instead of “shopping around” for the cheapest clothing from supermarkets.

The disclosure comes despite the introduction of guidance by Labour ordering state schools in England to stop specifying named suppliers for fear they would price out poor families. The guidelines were dropped as part of the Coalition’s new school admissions rules, which came into force this September.
The OFT now wants all schools to review their uniform policies – abolishing any “one supplier” arrangements. If these deals are unavoidable, schools are told to introduce more competition into the process to find cheaper deals for parents.

The latest intervention is likely to anger traditionalists who claim schools are required to turn to specialist outlets to ensure all pupils wear the same smart clothes, which is often seen as vital to maintaining discipline.
But the OFT insisted that forcing parents to turn to expensive suppliers represented an unnecessary “tax” on uniforms.

The OFT surveyed state schools across the UK as part of an investigation into uniform policies.
It found that 74% of heads placed “restrictions on where uniforms can be bought” – up from a previous study carried out in 2006.

It also compared prices from a single uniform supplier with those charged by local stores for more generic versions, suggesting that prices were between £5 and £10 higher from the specialist retailer.


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