'Premium price' Sidmouth College uniform criticised by parents

  Posted: 15.09.20 at 13:22 by Joseph Bulmer

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The cost of school uniform at Sidmouth College has been criticised by a group of parents who say the price is 'causing unnecessary hardship for many struggling families'.

Sidmouth College, which has provided a breakdown of costs (picture above), has responded by saying it has support in place for low income families and regularly provides free second hand uniform items to families who have requested help.

The price of school uniform is currently being debated by MPs with a private member's bill looking at providing guidance to schools on the cost of school uniform being debated tomorrow.

Sidmouth father Paul Ryder has a son attending the college at the moment, he had this to say: "I fully support a uniform policy where there's agreed colours and styles, provided these are widely available so that all families can comply without hardship. Thankfully the supermarkets compete on the common generic colours putting prices in reach of everybody. Sadly, Sidmouth College and other local schools have chosen a far more expensive premium price option.

"If the school really wished to support families experiencing financial difficulties, to purchase premium priced uniform they could do so quite easily. They already know the families qualifying for free school meals, these are the families who most struggle with their finances.

"They could provide a payment subsidy to all these families, rather than require an act of humility from a brave desperate parent to request such support. Alternatively, don’t include premium priced, branded items.

A table showing a price comparison of uniform items at local schools. Figures provided by Sidmouth College.

"Sidmouth College’s changes to their uniform policy, asserting that PE kit and other items should bare the school’s logo rather than generic supermarket uniform at less than half the price clearly goes against the spirit of the government’s guidance.

"Sadly it is guidance, not legislation, but in going against the guidance they are causing unnecessary hardship for many struggling families."

Although schools have the right to set their own uniform policies, the Government has made it clear that school clothing should always be affordable.

That guidance encourages schools to avoid sourcing clothes from a single company unless they’ve chosen them in a competitive tendering process and know they are delivering the best price. It also urges them to keep branded items to a minimum, giving parents the option to buy items of clothing from supermarkets or other affordable shops rather than one specific outlet.

Over the last year, Save The Children, Child Poverty Action Group and the Trussell Trust have all reported vulnerable families are put under pressure by expensive uniform, that charities are increasingly having to support families with uniforms as well as groceries and that ‘elitist’ school uniform requirements, drive holiday poverty.

The Children’s Society warns that the coronavirus pandemic is putting parents under increased financial pressure when it comes to the cost of getting children ready for the upcoming school year. Children’s charities found that the average cost of buying uniform for a child over the course of a year is now £340.

There are warnings that the coronavirus pandemic has pushed more families to the brink.

The society has reported that many parents are having to rely on bank loans to purchase uniform, which for larger families, can mean spending hundreds of pounds each year.

The Children's Society is calling for more schools to allow parents to buy generic items of clothing which can be cheaper than branded ones. A Children's Society spokesperson said: “There's a lot of anxiety around this now. We know from our survey earlier in the year that one in eight parents who we surveyed reported cutting back on essentials like food to pay for uniform.

"We know that some parents - almost seven percent of our survey - said that cost if uniform influenced the choice of school they sent their child to.”

Sidmouth mother Elizabeth Hunt had three children attend Sidmouth College, she said: "I am a low-income parent of three tall children who went through the Sidmouth schooling system, thus experienced the financial stress that other low-income parents do, to provide the correct uniform 'of the time', especially through recessions, 'austerity' and now the Covid affect on incomes and jobs.

"I would like to suggest that the schools have a collaborated approach to uniforms by using badges that could be stitched on or ironed on. Thus children’s blazers and PE kit could be bought from a designated supermarket retailer or Thomas Moore, of the right colour and shade and be common to both the primary schools and the college.

"Members of sports teams could be given a sports badge to wear at public events which had to be returned after the event. This idea would mean that pupils who have not grown out of their uniform at the primary could use the same blazer and PE Kit by merely sewing on the Sidmouth logo on top which the college could sell.

"This applies to the PE kit as well as there are some compulsory items to buy but there are optional items to which I imagine low income families can not afford to buy thus their children freeze on the sports field. If a generic supermarket brand was chosen as acceptable and a stitched badge or iron on label applied, maybe children from low income families would do better at sports and have better health too.

"We suffered greatly in 2009 when Sidmouth College changed their logo as our three children were different in gender and physique. Prior to this change of logo, we were able to “hand me down” some things. Additionally, we bought Clark’s school shoes but we told they were unacceptable.

"My children are 6ft plus now and grew rapidly at school. I congratulate the people who now recycle unwanted school uniforms but there are some parents who might desperately wish it wasn’t so expensive in the first place."

Sidmouth College's Principal, Mrs Parsons, told Nub News: "At Sidmouth College we have support in place to support families on lower incomes. We regularly provide free second hand uniform to families that have contacted us and requested assistance.

"Throughout our communications both via email and Facebook posts, parents and carers are consistently encouraged to contact us if they are facing financial difficulties with the purchase of College uniform. We also support families to purchase new items of uniform where the need arises.

"All uniform that is provided second hand is carefully selected to ensure it is still in good condition and has been laundered and folded before being issued to families. In Sidmouth, during the Summer the foodbank set up a ‘back to school bank’ to provide second hand uniform which we have promoted to parents.

"To prepare for the return of students in September we anticipated that some may not have all the required equipment and have purchased packs for students to ensure those in need are provided for. We have an outstanding pastoral team who care and support all students and their families to access the support available. We work in partnership with parents to provide discreet personalised support.

Mrs Parsons added: "We encourage any parent or carer experiencing difficulties with uniform to contact the College. Parent/carers can speak to their child’s Head of House or alternatively email [email protected]"

The Government is currently looking at private member's bill, ‘Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms)’. The bill, which is in the committee stage, will be looked at by MPs tomorrow (Wednesday, September 16).

In November 2019, Emma Hardy MP made this statement in The House Of Commons: "There is no evidence that a school uniform, let alone a highly prescriptive and zealously enforced school uniform, improves educational outcomes for any children, disadvantaged or otherwise.

"A perception seems to have grown over time that, somehow, the stricter the uniform, the better behaved the child, but I have seen no evidence of any correlation.

"Having a uniform that all parents and children can access is more likely to build positive relationships with parents and the community, and, therefore, instil a better attitude to learning at school.

"I would urge the leadership of all local schools to reflect not only on the statute, but also the guidance in reconsidering their uniform policies. I understand that many families will have recently spent enormous sums recently to ensure their children comply with new policies. It is shocking that decisions made by school’s leadership, with scant regard to the guidance, will have created such unnecessary hardship for these families."

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