Is school uniforms cash a real necessity for Bradford families?

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Irfan Aziz, owner of The Uniform Shop in Darley Street Irfan Aziz, owner of The Uniform Shop in Darley Street

One of the savings being explored in Bradford Council’s plans to cut youth services by £3.2 million in the next two years is the scrapping of clothing grants, which help parents buy school uniforms and cost £465,000 a year.

The grants are paid in the form of vouchers of £26 to low-income households and those on benefits.

The Council has been urged to reconsider scrapping the grants, but Councillor Ralph Berry, the authority’s executive member for children’s services, says even if the vouchers were axed, parents may still be able to get help directly from schools.

Over the past few years schools have become more particular about what pupils should and should not wear, from the style of their shoes to the colour of their hair, the length of skirts to the the suitability of trousers, jackets and shirts.

Coun Berry recalled the time when Grange High School pupils petitioned their school governors to re-instate the school uniform in the mid-1990s. Three Grange girls campaigned for a year on the issue. They said fellow pupils were distracted from their studies because they were concerned about their appearance.

Coun Berry, a parent himself, said: “If you didn’t have the fancy trainers and the right clothing, you got bullied.”

Martin Stokes, a former pupil of Tong High School who has campaigned against the high cost of school uniforms, said: “Suggesting that pupils should have ‘nearly new’ uniforms is ridiculous, it is downgrading them. If this goes ahead a lot of pupils will get bullied. Some already get bullied if they have tatty uniforms.”

Bradford’s schools are not without resources. Their overall cash reserves total at least £17m. And from January the Government’s Pupil Premium will be going up significantly too.

Coun Berry said: “The Pupil Premium will be going up from £600 per pupil to nearly £1,000 in the new year. Part of that can be used for parents on benefits to help with the cost of uniforms.

“I am working very hard to make sure there is support for families with school clothing. Six of our schools already do that. Power and resources are being passed down to schools by the Government. My argument is that it’s not unreasonable for schools to accept some of the responsibilities.

“I have had positive responses from schools about reducing the cost of clothing. I have just spoken to one head who is aiming to get the entire uniform package down to below £50.”

The cost of school uniforms, a business worth hundreds of thousands of pounds locally every summer, also concerns Irfan Aziz, owner of The Uniform Shop, Darley Street, one of the four main suppliers of school uniforms in Bradford and Shipley. He says some of Bradford’s 26 high schools are ignoring Office of Fair Trading guidelines by advising parents to buy uniforms from one particular supplier.

He said: “The guidelines say they have to recommend at least three suppliers. I know of schools that are not doing that. If they did there would be a price war and the cost of uniforms would come down.

“We have shops in Morley, Halifax, Wakefield and Batley; but only in Bradford is this going on. I have been fighting this for five years.”

Coun Berry said: “School uniforms are big business. There is a clear ruling by the Office of Fair Trading that schools cannot recommend one source of supplier, they cannot do exclusive deals.

“I am disappointed to hear this is still going on. It comes up from time to time, but we will deal with it. This is a restrictive practice. I will make sure that the message is passed back to schools.”

In October last year the Office of Fair Trading announced that it had written to 29,500 primary and secondary schools in the UK asking them to review their school uniform policies.

This followed an OFT survey which found that 74 per cent of state schools “continue to place restrictions on where some uniforms can be bought”.

This practice meant higher costs of up to £10 for parents unable to shop around.

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