FRODSHAM-based MP Mike Amesbury is delighted struggling families will benefit from cheaper school uniform costs when his private member’s bill becomes law tomorrow (April 29).
Mr Amesbury’s bill is expected to clear all its stages in the nick of time, just before the end of this parliamentary session.
In future, the new law will mean schools across England will have to comply with legally-binding guidance aimed at ensuring uniforms are affordable.
The bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Lords this afternoon (April 28) and is due to be given Royal Assent tomorrow when it becomes law.
The Labour MP, who represents Weaver Vale, said: “I’m celebrating on behalf of hard-pressed families up and down the country. People have been going through tough times, particularly with COVID.
“Of course, the issue of expensive uniforms predates COVID but it’s more pertinent than ever because people have been on furlough or lost jobs as well as losing loved ones.
“This will make a real difference and bring the cost of school uniforms down, with the need for schools to put affordability front and centre in their uniform policies placed on a legal footing for the first time. So I’m over the moon for those children and their families.”
According to The Children’s Society, parents are spending on average £337 per year on uniform for each child at secondary school, while parents of primary school children spend £315 on average – three times what they feel is reasonable for school uniforms.
Many schools insist parents buy expensive branded items, often from a single supplier, when standard kit would be far cheaper. Research from The Children’s Society shows that when parents have to buy two or more items from a specific shop, the average cost of a primary school uniform is around 50% more expensive.
Families unable to afford high uniform costs can end up cutting back on other essentials, borrowing from family members or getting into debt. Children attending school without correct uniforms because of financial hardship can be excluded and miss out on their education.
New guidance, which the Government aim to issue to schools in the autumn, is expected to insist the number of branded items is kept to a minimum, with a fair and open tendering process established around uniform suppliers to tackle long-standing monopolies.
The law was supported by the Government as well as colleagues from across the political divide in both Houses of Parliament.
Mr Amesbury’s Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill was delayed due to the impact of COVID on the Westminster timetable but crossed the line just before the end of this parliamentary session. Earlier this year, thousands of supporters of the bill wrote to Jacob Rees-Mogg, Leader of the House, calling on him to make more time for the bill, before it was brought back in March.
Mark Russell, chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “It’s been a long journey but we are delighted the bill has finally passed, making affordable school uniforms a reality for struggling families.
“Young people told us about the huge impact expensive school uniforms had on their lives back in 2014 and The Children’s Society has campaigned hard to cut the costs ever since.
“We’ve heard of children being sent home from school because their parents could not afford the correct uniform and of families facing impossible choices like cutting back on food or heating in order to buy the right kit.
“It’s completely unacceptable and unfair on children and families. This bill should finally cut the cost of school uniforms, making life easier, not harder, for families and helping children to feel like they fit in at school and are equal to their classmates.”
Alicia, 18, a college student from Essex, says: “I received pupil premium throughout my time at school. The uniform was expensive – my Year 7 blazer cost over £100, with other items over £30 each. I ended up wearing the same items all five years.
“I’ve been proud to work with The Children’s Society to champion this important campaign. Puberty is hard enough without having to ask your parents to spend huge amounts of money because you’ve had a growth spurt.
“I went with The Children’s Society to Parliament for the bill’s second reading last March and so am really excited to see it finally pass, after a year of lockdown delays, at a time when many families are struggling.”