Longer read: Redbridge parents say they are 'held to ransom over school uniforms'
PUBLISHED: 12:14 25 September 2019 | UPDATED: 12:14 25 September 2019
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A petition has been launched to stop "extortionate" prices for school uniforms which "hold parents to ransom".
Ruthba Amin has set up a petition asking Loxford School of Science and Technology, Loxford Lane, Ilford, to change its supplier to make school clothing more affordable.
"Just the other day I heard a parent telling her son off for getting paint on his school jumper as she couldn't afford another one.
"My heart just dropped, and then I realised this is not the predicament of only one parent - I spoke to others who have more than two children and they expressed their frustrations at the cost.
"Some parents might not say anything but you can see the struggle in their faces, or you see them leave bits behind when at the till point as it is too expensive."
Mrs Amin said while she appreciates that a school uniform teaches students to take pride in their appearance and create a sense of equality, the overly-expensive items are putting a burden on parents.
She explained that the problem multiples when children rip or misplace parts of their uniform, and it is unhygienic for a child to wear the same clothes every day.
"We are held to ransom to buy them as it is school policy that the children must wear the uniform with a logo on it," she added. "We have no choice.
"Many parents feel the burden of paying extortionate prices for the school uniform - we do what we can and we share or pass the uniform down to siblings but we still need to buy the essential items every year.
"Just this school year I spent £149 on my girls."
The mum said if parents band together and "collectively say no and refuse to pay these prices" the school could find a better deal. She suggested that cheaper suppliers can be used, or an embroidered logo could be sold that parents could stick on.
It isn't just Loxford parents who are feeling the back to school money squeeze and one Redbridge dad, who does not want to be named for fear his son will be penalised, said he is fed up with being made to order through the M&S school shop when he could pick up clothing cheaper at the supermarket.
"The only option I have of ordering school uniform is through M&S - it is the only place that does the logo.
"If I bought the same product on the high street I could pay under a quarter of the price, but a stick-on patch is not available.
"I have come close to cutting my son's old uniform and sewing it on - but I don't want him to look out of place.
"After paying childcare through summer and then splashing out on uniform - that you know in some cases will only last for a term - makes September an extremely hard month financially and I try and skip lunch over summer to pay for it."
The issue is not just one of local interest and Emma Hardy, MP for Hull West and Hessle, accused academies, in particular, of effectively excluding poorer children by "prescribing prohibitively expensive uniforms" which were beyond the financial reach of their families, including blazers that mimic grammar and private schools.
Speaking at a parliamentary inquiry into school holiday poverty she said: "If you allow parents to shop around and buy non-branded items then they can get them for really reasonable prices, and that's what my campaign's been about."
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Education minister Lord Agnew said he "100per cent" agreed with the MP and policy needed to change.
We need to just tell these schools to not be so ridiculous, and I'm happy to amend the guidance," he said.
"It's mindless bureaucracy on the part of these schools.
"They don't realise that actually, this is an additional burden for a family that's not well off."
According to the Children's Society families spend on average £340 a year on secondary school uniform and £255 on primary.
It also said previously revealed that in a survey of 1,000 parents, nearly one in six families blamed school uniform costs for having to cut back on food and other basic essentials.
Whatsmore it is only optional for local authorities or academy trusts to provide financial aid and can "choose" to provide grants.
Earlier this month the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) wrote to the government about the demands of paying for school items.
It said education providers must allow parents to shop around for uniforms on the high street and in supermarkets.
It said it received a "surge of complaints" from parents and carers every summer about the "excessive cost of uniforms where school policies prevent items being purchased from cheaper alternative suppliers".
Replying to the letter, education secretary Gavin Williamson said the Department for Education strongly encourages schools to have a uniform as it can play an important role in contributing to the ethos of a school and setting an appropriate tone.
"It is for the governing body of a school (or the academy trust, in the case of academies) to decide whether there should be a school uniform policy, and if so, what it should be," he said,
"It is also for the governing body to decide how the uniform should be sourced.
"Whilst school uniform can have a hugely positive impact on a school in terms of providing cohesion and community for the pupil population, no uniform should be so expensive as to present a barrier to accessing the school."
He continued: "The department's guidance advises schools that, in setting their school uniform policy, they should give high priority to cost considerations and achieving value for money for parents. In particular, our guidance states that uniform items should be easily available for parents to purchase and schools should keep compulsory branded items to a minimum.
"The guidance is clear that schools should avoid single-supplier contracts, but where schools do choose to enter into such contracts, they should ensure these are subject to a regular competitive tendering process to ensure value for parents."
Mr Williamson said that the government has announced a plan to put the school uniform guidance on a "statutory footing" and will do so when a suitable opportunity arises.
"This will send a clear signal that we expect schools to ensure uniform costs are reasonable," he added.
Loxford School has been contacted for comment.