Department for Education
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Schools told to cut uniform costs in new guidance
Schools should make every effort to limit the cost of school uniforms or risk enforcement action, according to new advice issued today.
The guidance, which was published following a three month consultation, urges all schools to have a school uniform, but warns that any set policy must be affordable, non-discriminatory and sensitive to the needs of pupils.
In particular, the guidelines warn that schools that have exclusive contracts with suppliers may be subject to enforcement action under the terms of the Competition Act. Overly expensive uniform policies may also fall foul of the School Admissions Code, which places a statutory duty on all governing bodies to ensure that their policies and practices do not disadvantage any children.
Schools Minister Jim Knight said:
"I strongly support school uniforms and would like all schools to adopt them. They can instil pride and unity, support a strong school ethos and prevent the jealousy, rivalry and conflict that can arise when children wear different clothes.
"But the cost of uniforms must never be a barrier for poorer families. There's an important balance to be struck between developing a smart, comfortable uniform and burdening parents with needless expense by insisting on bespoke designs, for instance.
"We will take action where schools have a uniform policy that is needlessly and prohibitively expensive, while the OFT has already written to schools warning that exclusive contracts with suppliers may contravene the Competition Act."
Other key points from the guidance include:
* Heads are within their rights to send a pupil home to change clothes if they breach uniform policy, but they must notify parents first and consider factors such as the child's age, vulnerability, availability of parent and how easily the breach can be remedied. A pupil must not be sent home indefinitely or for longer than necessary to remedy the breach, as this could amount to unofficial exclusion.
* Schools must be sensitive to the needs of all pupils and should consult the community, parents and pupils before setting or changing a uniform policy. They must act reasonably in accommodating pupils' requirements but may have to balance the rights of an individual against the best interests of the whole school community.
* Schools should consider using lighter colours and reflective materials in uniforms to increase the visibility of children when walking or cycling to school, and that they should be sensitive and flexible when setting requirements on PE clothing.
* Schools should prevent young people from wearing clothes that may encourage cliques or gangs from developing.
Schools Minister Jim Knight also said:
"Schools must make every effort to accommodate the cultural, religious or medical requirements of all pupils, and should consult widely when setting or amending the uniform.
"But we are clear that the needs of safety, security and effective teaching and learning must always be paramount - and these may supersede individual requests under the terms of the Human Rights Act.
"Schools must continue to assess each case on its individual merits, and this guidance will help them make sensible and sensitive judgements."
The final school uniform guidance is available at http://www.teachernet.gov.uk.
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The Cost of Schooling Survey (Brunwin et al, 2004) found that 99% of maintained schools in England require pupils to wear a uniform of some description.
2. The School Uniform Omnibus Survey (DfES 2002) found that 89% of parents with a child who attended a maintained school said they were in favour of school uniform.
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