The uniform challenge
The Schoolwear Association outlines the major uniform challenges for schools today.
By Rebecca Jackson
7 September 2016
As the new school year has just begun, many parents across the UK will have been faced with buying new uniform for 2016/17. But it’s not just parents that face obstacles along the way towards getting it right.
The Schoolwear Association, whose members together help to clothe three-quarters of UK children, highlights five big challenges facing schools, governors, parents and suppliers as they head into the new school year.
Surge in secondary school student numbers
Government figures show the number of pupils attending England's secondary schools is to rise by 20 per cent over the course of the next decade, with nearly 3.3 million pupils expected to be attending state-funded secondary schools by 2024, compared with just over 2.7 million in 2015. According to the Department for Education, this is mainly due to the upturn in the birth rate. Schools don't always get the timing right with suppliers so with rising numbers of students needing to be kitted out, it is vital to work closely together and plan well in advance to ensure that every child benefits from the advantages of a good quality, school specific uniforms in improved learning, behaviour and safety.
Pressure to reduce cost and price, compromising quality
Some stores are launching a price war in order to increase footfall by selling off-the-shelf school clothing, in turn some schools are under unreasonable pressure to reduce school uniform prices. It is a false economy to try to clothe children on the cheap. Poor quality clothes aren't durable and don’t do the job properly.
As with everything, there are genuine benefits from paying a little extra for a good value product and service. A uniform that is made well does the job better and offers real value because it lasts longer and looks the part. Going for the cheapest option may also come with a hidden price tag, at the expense of the environment or the conditions of the workers who had to produce the clothes. While proper school uniform sometimes gets singled out as expensive. The real drain on many family budgets is often the branded clothing children wear when they are not in school.
In the diverse country in which we live, schools have to think carefully about how to accommodate religious beliefs. This means school uniforms must be flexible enough to be able to meet the needs of everyone without compromising the school's identity.
Unfortunately, Obesity in children is continuing to increase in the UK, impacting many school students. It is one of the reasons schoolwear suppliers have to stock a wide range of different shapes and sizes, including larger school uniforms. A commitment to a school to provide uniform in all sizes, all year round is one of the reasons that schools prefer to work with specialist suppliers.
Transgender / gender diversity
Some schools are moving towards more gender neutral school uniforms, as part of a drive for the education system to be more open to children questioning their gender identity. The important thing is not whether there are well-defined male and female versions of a uniform but that the school retains a strict policy to ensure that everyone can wear the uniform in a way that contributes to the school's identity and everyone's sense of belonging to the school and its local community.
David Burgess, chairman of the Schoolwear Association, says, “As we enter the new school year, it is an opportunity to highlight the benefits of good quality uniform. We understand that price is important but a uniform that is made well does the job better than cheap off-the-shelf clothing and offers better value because it lasts longer.”
He continues, “We advise schools and parents to work with specialist suppliers to find the best value uniform for children, who are also in a position to cater to all of a school's uniform requirements. Making good decisions at the outset will always provide better long term value.”
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