Office of Fair Trading
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OFT urges schools to help bring down the cost of school uniforms

The OFT has written to 29,500 state primary and secondary schools in the UK asking them to review their uniform policies as families could save tens of millions of pounds if schools removed restrictions.

This follows an OFT survey of state schools across the UK which found that when uniform items can only be purchased from certain retailers or suppliers selected by the school or from the school shop, prices can be as much as £5 to £10 higher than if families were able to freely shop around.

The survey also found that:

  • 74 per cent of state schools continue to place restrictions on where some uniform items can be bought
  • In one example, the average price for a sweatshirt for a secondary school boy was £12 under a restricted arrangement, whereas an indicative price when sold by competing retailers is £8 and £5 from a supermarket..

Survey results show that schools use a single supplier for a number of reasons, such as they want consistent, good quality uniforms for their pupils and convenience for parents. The OFT recognises that these qualities are important, but believes schools can still have smart school uniform policies without appointing a single supplier. For example, schools could achieve consistency through setting out colour and style requirements in more detail but still allow parents choice about where to buy uniform items.

Susan Oxley, Assistant Director in the OFT's Goods and Consumer Group, said:  'When schools require that uniforms are bought from a preferred supplier or shop it can act as a 'tax' on families, which mostly goes to the chosen retailers. However, when families are able to shop around for school uniform items it can drive competition and bring down prices for all.

'We know schools don't want families to be left out of pocket and we have written to schools across the UK asking them to review their policies and supplier arrangements. '

NOTES

  1. Further information and help for families struggling to meet the costs of schooling is available is available from Citizens Advice's Adding-Up Campaign
  2. Guidance for schools is available from Department for Education

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