The Upcoming ‘Cost of School Uniform’ Guidance: What will it mean for schools?

By Matt Easter, Co-Chair, Schoolwear Association

In the next few weeks, the government will be bringing forward final guidance on school uniform costs which schools must have regard to when developing and implementing their own uniform policies. 

Our expectation is that this will be based on the draft Cost of School Uniform guidance released by the Department for Education in July  which we welcomed at the time as a balanced and proportionate document that will help to ensure parents get value for money from uniforms, without creating unreasonable burdens on schools or uniform suppliers.

Ahead of the publication of the final guidance, we understand that school leaders are keen to understand what it would likely mean for them to give them sufficient time to adapt to any new requirements. 

We have therefore produced a fact sheet for school leaders and are pleased to be working with organisations like ASCL to share our latest insights and provide practical advice about how best to prepare for the forthcoming guidance.

In most cases, we expect schools will already be fully compliant with the new guidance and will be able to confirm that they have followed the legal requirements of the Bill through a documented internal review process. Our overriding advice to school leaders is therefore not to panic, and to work with governors and their uniform suppliers to see how their existing uniform policies line up with the expectations of the new guidance. 

Cost of uniforms
The guidance has been developed by the government to ensure that the cost of school uniform is “reasonable and secures best value for money for parents”. Importantly, it recognises that the quality and durability of a garment are important considerations alongside its base cost, as we know that high quality uniforms are sustainable and long-lasting, producing savings for families over the longer term.

It is vital that school uniform policies are underpinned by an accurate understanding of uniform costs, and so each year we conduct the largest industry analysis of the cost of school uniform, accounting for over 11% of state secondary schools in England, clothing over 385,000 pupils. 

This year we found the average cost of compulsory secondary school uniform and sportswear items is £93 per pupil when they start secondary school, down from £101 last year. These figures are based on the actual retail price of garments charged to parents in our members’ stores, reflecting the true cost of secondary school uniforms. We therefore suggest that schools work with their supplier to use this as a benchmark to assess their own costs.

It is worth also noting that, whilst this cost will be incurred in full by parents when their children join secondary school, our research also shows that these items are not repurchased annually on average so the true per wear cost is significantly lower over time. This is also possible because of the higher quality of uniform offered by specialist manufacturers. 

Second-hand uniform sales
In recognition of the need for uniforms to be of a reasonable cost, there is a clear expectation on schools to ensure that second-hand uniform is available for parents to acquire and that information about this is published on schools’ websites. We understand that the government wants to introduce this element of the guidance in the coming months.

Through our Code of Practice, where sole supplier arrangements are in place, our members are already committed to supporting children in low-income families by providing hardship measures such as swap shops, second-hand uniform sales, payment plans, and voucher schemes. We would therefore encourage schools to discuss second-hand uniform sales with their suppliers who may already be able to help where second-hand uniform is concerned or alternatively, be able to put a provision in place as part of a uniform contract. 

Sole supply arrangements
Schools are able to maintain sole supply arrangements where there is a proportionate and competitive procurement process. This is important, as these arrangements provide better value for money for families, ensure year-round availability of products for all pupils, and enable retailers to provide tailored affordability support to those who need it.

In support of this, earlier this year the Association issued practical uniform tendering guidance to schools to simplify the sole supplier procurement process and ensure that there is robust competition at the point of selecting a uniform supplier. We hope that schools find this guidance helpful when reviewing their own arrangements.

Re-tendering contracts
Many schools will be tied into existing contracts with uniform suppliers and so will not yet be able to comply with the guidance. The government does not expect them to re-tender immediately, but rather to comply when their uniform supply contract is next renewed. Schools should therefore not rush into re-tendering but should work with their suppliers on next steps.

Schools with smaller uniform contracts may also not need to formally re-tender at all, as the government is considering only requiring a full tender process under Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) rules if the uniform contract is valued at more than £180k through its life. Schools with smaller contracts would then only need to source a few quotes from suppliers to inform their appointment decision. 

By Matt Easter, Co-Chair, Schoolwear Association 
Find out more about the Schoolwear Association here

Posted: 10/11/2021 09:58:00