Some schools in Kirklees are flouting Government school uniform guidelines which can end up costing parents a fortune.
A motion to the full Kirklees Council meeting on Wednesday (January 17) backs the Government’s insistence that all schools should give parents the chance to get hold of second-hand school uniform, but it claims some schools still aren’t doing this.
And with the pioneering charity Uniform Exchange operating in Kirklees, it says there is no excuse for all the schools in the borough not to turn to it for help to get hold of unwanted or second-hand uniform to pass on to pupils.
Recent research by the Children’s Society found that parents spent on average £287 a year on primary school uniforms and £422 a year on secondary uniforms, with branded items costing more.
Councils, including Kirklees, stopped giving school uniform grants in 2010 so the only way parents can get free school uniform in Kirklees is through Uniform Exchange which has a growing regional and national reputation for the way it operates and the help it provides.
The charity has dozens of collection points throughout Kirklees such as schools, libraries and supermarkets where parents can donate school uniform their children no longer need.
This is collected by the charity, washed and mended where necessary and then stored at its warehouse in Lockwood. Parents in need of free school uniform fill in a simple form on the Uniform Exchange website and the items they want are picked from the charity’s stock, packed and delivered to the families usually through their schools or nearest library or community centre.
The demand faced by Uniform Exchange has never been greater. The charity helped more than 6,700 children in the 2022/2023 school year but the never-ending cost-of-living crisis means the charity is under pressure like never before and expects to help around 7,500 children in the current school year.
The number of children helped has virtually doubled in less than three years and each pack given to families usually contains around 10 items of school uniform so that will be about 75,000 items this year.
The Government has published new statutory guidance aimed at making school uniforms more affordable after a legal requirement to do so passed into law in 2021.
An important part of this says that schools should ensure second-hand uniforms are available for parents. Information on second-hand uniforms should be clear for parents of current and prospective pupils and published on the school’s website.
But the Kirklees Council report says: “The statutory guidance set out by the Government is having a limited impact as some schools are still failing to adhere to the recommendations.
“This is compounded by the rising costs for standard uniform items and branded items in particular during the current unprecedented cost of living crisis.”
Golcar Liberal Democrat councillor Andrew Marchington, who is one of the councillors presenting the motion, said: “The issue is that many schools are not following the Government’s guidance on school unforms.
“Some schools, for instance, require parents to spend money on expensive unform from specialist shops, while others may allow them to buy school unforms from the high street, which is usually much cheaper.
“The cost of school uniforms has been a problem for a while but we are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis.
“The existing statutory guidance isn’t working. We think that the existing guidance itself is being interpreted differently by schools and isn’t clear enough. It needs to be reviewed and updated as a matter of urgency.
“It’s important that we address this and try to find a solution. This can only be resolved through Government intervention and by schools and local authorities working together.”
Uniform Exchange founder Kate France (above) said: “We are asking all Kirklees schools to do two things here. The first is to publish information about Uniform Exchange on their school websites saying that parents can apply to us for free school uniform and also put a direct link to the application form on our website.
“Secondly, we would like all Kirklees schools to hold at least one pop-up school uniform event a year asking parents to donate uniform direct to the school for it. Most schools have eco groups run by pupils who would be keen to arrange these events. This is already happening in some schools so we know it works very well.
“If people could continue giving old uniform to the charity, especially the pricier items such as blazers and PE kit, that would be wonderful.
“We are saving parents a fortune by reusing all this uniform but know that many more families can benefit if we enhance the number of ways they can get free uniform.”
Kate added in response to the Government policy: “We believe in having a limited or minimum number of branded items per school.
“The only necessary items would be a blazer or jumper, school tie and a PE top. Some of the top performing schools in Kirklees have moved to this very simple uniform policy and are helping to keep costs down.”
The motion to the Kirklees meeting says the council should do all it can to “signpost schools and parents to the excellent provision within Kirklees for recycling and reuse of branded and unbranded uniform through organisations like Uniform Exchange.”
But it also says perhaps the time has come for the Government to take a tougher stance on schools that don’t comply with the guidance.
The motion concludes: “If a school does not comply with the updated statutory guidance parents should be able to complain directly to the Department for Education who should be able to enforce compliance, rather than just to the governing body of a school.”
Apply for free school uniform on the Uniform Exchange website at https://www.uniform-exchange.org/free-school-uniform/ and it’s designed so it can be done through mobile phones.
To find the nearest Uniform Exchange collection point to where you live go to https://www.uniform-exchange.org/donation-points/
Written by ANDY HIRST who runs his own Yorkshire freelance journalism agency AH! PR (https://ah-pr.com/) specialising in press releases, blogging, website content and copywriting.