Call for action over 'higher price' school uniforms as Doncaster parents 'forced into debt'

Doncaster families are going into debt to afford ‘high cost’ uniforms from specialist providers, say experts.

Friday, 28th February 2020, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 2nd March 2020, 10:33 am

Concerns have now prompted the Doncaster Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB) to arrange a meeting with education bosses to find a way to reduce the burden on some of the borough’s poorest families.

The moves follows research by Citizens Advice Doncaster Borough development officer James Woods, carried out last summer, which revealed nearly 95 per cent of parents had to splash out on items from ‘higher price’ specialist suppliers.

Mr Woods carried out the research between July and September last year after becoming concerned about the number of people coming to the CAB for debt advice mentioning school uniforms as an issue. A total of 185 families responded.

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Kasia Fabis, volunteer and James Woods, development officer, pictured at Mexborough Citizens Advice Bureau. Picture: NDFP-25-02-20 CAB Uniform 1-NMSY

Doncaster has 90 schools with around 65,000 children aged between six and 19.

The CAB research found:

98.9 per cent of schools have a uniform of some description.88.8 per cent of those schools opt for branded items, such as logos on blazers, school ties and polo shirts.The average school uniform costs £340 per year per secondary school age child.73.9 per cent of its survey respondents ‘cannot afford school uniform costs or find it a significant financial burden’.

Mr Woods said: “We are calling on the local authority to look at this issue in the hope of providing support for families suffering from financial hardship due to the costs of sending their children to school.

Year 12 students l-r Jasmine Wood, Oliver Page, Tharmisha Ramamoorthy and Sarah Roe, all 17. Picture: Marie Caley

“Our research highlights uniform costs is causing financial hardship for families across the borough.

“Some respondents even stated they are getting into debt to be able to meet the school uniform requirements for their children. One respondent said ’I have to get a loan...to pay for them and then spend all year paying it back.

“We feel schools should not be putting families under such financial pressure. They should be more aware of the wider impacts the cost of uniforms have on low income households. Doncaster residents should not be having to choose to cut back on food and heating or having to borrow money to cover these costs.”

The investigation discovered parents of children at one school in Doncaster had to pay £11.50 for a school branded polo shirt. But the CAB stated an unbranded one available from a supermarket could cost £3.50. Blazers or jackets, which are often compulsory, cost from £31.99 to £37.99 at two Doncaster secondary schools, it stated.

Mr Woods believes the issue is in part due to school policies that make parents buy clothing from specialist shops rather than giving them the choice of buying items at cheaper stores such as supermarkets or high-street chains.

“Our research suggests that over half of our respondents, 64.1​ per cent, buy items directly from schools, or 30.6​ per cent purchased items from specific specialist shops. This outlines that overall 94.7​ per cent of parents in the Doncaster borough face having to buy a number of specialist items from schools or specific suppliers often at higher prices.

“We believe simple changes could be made to school policy to allow them to pick up similar items at cheaper stores and supermarkets which would not impact the smart dress codes schools want to project.

“Our research shows that 61.3 per cent of respondents would welcome and use a scheme where cheaper or pre-worn items were made available. Our respondents even suggested that should this type of scheme be available they would donate to such a scheme at the end of each school year.

“The point raised by a significant number of the survey respondents was that the school branded items are significantly more expensive than supermarkets.

“We’re not opposed to school uniforms – we just want them to take into account the cost to families.”

They have also suggested schools could have pin badges for logos that could be transferred between different garments, and that the council could contact a wholesale school clothing factory and buy in bulk.

They also suggest schools could be asked to sign up to a council led commitment to reduce costs to parents.

Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband has backed the CAB’s campaign.

He said: “Families shouldn’t have to get into debt so that their kids can go to school.

“There are things we can look at, both locally and nationally, to make things easier for families. Schools themselves can look at measures to make their uniforms more affordable but serious consideration should also be given to providing grants to pay for uniforms. These grants are already available in Wales and I have written to the government to request that parents receive comparable support here.”

Doncaster Council has been approached for comment.

Cheaper options

Mum Kasia Fabis said she believed her children’s school gave her plenty of options for cheaper clothes.

Kasia, unemployed, from Mexborough, has three children at St John’s Primary School in Mexborough, aged five, nine and 10. All of them have uniforms.

She said: “It would be nice if they had a logo on, but they don’t have to.

“Four years ago when I bought a cardigan for school for the first time, I paid £12, and the tie was £5. I bought from the school that time, but they tell you that you can buy cheaper from the supermarket, and they do not force you to buy from the school.

“Now I buy from the supermarkets. It means I can get two cargidans for £9. You can get two polo shirts from one of the discount supermarkets for £1.75.”

School views

Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which runs two of Doncaster’s biggest school, in Danum and Adwick, said it provides a free uniform for its pupils in their their first year at school.

A spokesperson for Outwood Grange Academies Trust said: “At Outwood we appreciate that uniforms, although important, can sometimes be costly, which is why we ensure every child receives a free set of uniform, including their blazer and full sports kit, when they join the Outwood Family. We believe this is the right thing to do to help students, and parents, own a smart, good quality uniform that helps to nurture a sense of pride within our students and enables them to feel a part of something.”

No comment was available from Delta, which runs five secondary schools in the borough. But one of its schools, Ash Hill, in Hatfield stated on its website that the school uniform includes a black blazer with Delta logo, a standard Delta tie, and a Delta PE shirt. But it stressed shirts to go under blazers could be purchased from other retailers as long as they were plain white with no patterns or logo, and could take a tie.