This post is a letter to the Coucillor who oversees education and the Chair of the Bitterne Park School governors. It looks at the costs of the proposed change to the school uniform and examines the claimed benefits. The letter is open for anyone to sign. We hope that they will intervene to prevent the introduction of a school blazer.
Please add your name in the comments at the end of the letter if you agree.
Dear Councillor Paffey and Mr Turner,
We are writing to you as Cabinet Member for Education and Skills and Chair of Bitterne Park governors respectively regarding our concerns about the proposed introduction of blazers as a mandatory part of the school uniform in the 2017 school year at Bitterne Park Secondary School.
The school is currently consulting about the uniform change  but seems to only be asking for parents’ opinions on whether the colour should be green or black. Frankly we do not really care what colour the blazer is and are disappointed that the school is set on introducing a blazer without any parental consultation.
The school’s presentation about the uniform changes  show the two options (no option for keeping the status quo), the prices of items and the rationale behind the changes. In our view the rationale is very weak and the costs are high.
The new year 11’s will be exempt from wearing blazers to avoid parents having to buy them for just one year but new green skirts may need to be purchased nevertheless. However, a girl going into one of years 8-10 will need a blazer, perhaps 2 new skirts (if the change to green is made), a tie, and (if she has up to now been wearing blouses which are unsuitable for ties) she would need perhaps 4 shirts. That would cost approximately £50 using the presentation’s prices.
Of course, some children would be getting new clothes for the new school year anyway as they will have grown, but whereas previously those clothes may be hand-me-downs from older siblings or second hand from other families this will no longer be the case for some items.
It is hard to judge the average additional cost beyond the obvious cost of buying a blazer as no-one knows how many new clothes would be bought anyway. If we assume:
then the additional cost incurred because of the uniform change on top of what parents already have to pay for uniform, sports, dance and PE kit is as follows:
|.||Green skirts||Black skirts||No skirt||.|
The total cost this year would therefore be £49870 or £42670 depending on whether green or black skirts are chosen. Parents of girls are also unfairly disadvantaged: pity the parents with two girls at the school who may have to fork out an additional £100! Further detail on this calculation can be found at the end of this letter.
The following year would also see the purchase of another 360 blazers at approximately £10,000 to finish kitting out the whole school. The additional cost continues of course with at least two blazers required per child during their school career and probably four even for some, given how fast boys can grow at that age.
This seems to be a high additional cost. Below, we examine the rationale as explained by the school to try to understand the benefits of spending this money, but first it is instructive to look at the DfE’s guidance on school uniforms from September 2013  which states under “The importance of cost consideration” (emphasis added):
“School governing bodies should therefore give high priority to cost considerations. The governing body should be able to demonstrate how best value has been achieved and keep the cost of supplying the uniform under review.
“When considering how the school uniform should be sourced, governing bodies should give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents. The school uniform should be easily available for parents to purchase and schools should seek to select items that can be purchased cheaply, for example in a supermarket or other good value shop. Schools should keep compulsory branded items to a minimum and avoid specifying expensive items of uniform eg expensive outdoor coats.”
Introducing additional costs is not prioritising “cost and value for money for parents”. The same document cites as a case study the example of Caldew School in Cumbria which has jumpers with the school logo on but also has arrangements with local companies to add a badge to a supermarket jumper. The school
“…decided to remove blazers from the uniform requirements. Many parents in the consultation had mentioned that they did not see blazers as practical for waiting for buses or walking to and from school in bad weather. Instead, the school has enforced a rule that no student can wear an external jacket inside the building.”
So we have a school held up as an example of good practice by the DfE removing blazers, but Bitterne Park school seemingly set on adding them.
The school’s presentation shows that the proposal has already had “governor input” and yet the DfE says governing bodies “should give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents”. In response to a letter from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to school regarding competition for the supply of branded uniform items , a National Governors’ Association (NGA) spokeswoman said:
“NGA recognises that school uniform can form a key part of the identity of a school, but governing boards should make every effort to keep uniform costs to a minimum and make sure it is as widely available to purchase as possible.”
Introducing a branded blazer available from possibly just one supplier and therefore inevitably increasing costs would not be making “every effort”.
So, there is significant additional cost, against the advice of the DfE and the NGA. Perhaps there is a good reason for the introduction of blazers which would compensate for this cost to parents?
The school’s presentation  makes 5 points:
Let us examine these one by one.
The children already look smart. Consistency derives from the enforcement of whatever the chosen uniform is and its acceptance by the pupils.
We would like to know why a “more consistent smarter image” is needed and what the benefit to the pupils is?
It is actually possible that introducing blazers may make some pupils appear scruffier given they may be oversized or undersized (to avoid expense) and can also quite easily be damaged and potentially not mended or replaced.
The school seems to be saying that the change to the uniform will raise standards. Some evidence to back up this assertion should be provided. A DfE report from 2012  states:
“School uniform. Although there is public support for compulsory school uniforms (YouGov, 2011) and a belief that a school uniform policy helps to improve behaviour (DfES, 2002), the evidence for a direct link is mixed at best. Evidence from the USA suggests that there is no real impact on pupils’ behaviour when they are required to wear a uniform. Brunsma and Rockquemore (1998) in an analysis of follow up data collected through the National Educational Longitudinal Study in the US in 1994 found that school uniform requirements were not significantly associated with attendance, behaviour or substance misuse. Conversely, Han (2010) argues that there is a link - albeit not a causal one - between uniforms and the number of students’ problem behaviours. Using 2003/04 data from the US School Survey on Crime and Safety, Han (2010) found that elementary and middle schools with uniforms reported fewer incidents but that this did not hold for high schools.”
The evidence for a school uniform improving behaviour is “mixed at best”. Presumably the evidence for improved behaviour through making an existing uniform “smarter” is weaker and almost certainly non-existent? The UK is unusual in having school uniforms at all: our international peers do just fine (if not better) without them.
Some schools in Southampton have blazers, others do not. It is not explained why “parity” is required, with which schools it is required and what benefits it brings. It is increasingly uncommon to wear ties and jackets in the modern workplace. We would prefer Bitterne Park to lead with a modern approach rather than copying a historical fashion favoured by some others.
The meaning of this is not clear. If it means that changing the uniform will help move the school from being “good” to being “outstanding” in the next Ofsted inspection then it’s worth a look at the last inspection  which stated:
“It is not yet an outstanding school because:
- The gap in achievement between students receiving additional funding and other students is closing too slowly.
- Teaching is not yet outstanding. Some activities planned by teachers do not enable all students to make the progress of which they are capable.
- Teachers’ marking does not always inform students how to improve.”
There is no suggestion in that report of there being any issue related to the uniform. However, in the assembly at school when the new uniform was presented, Mrs Mclaren is reported by pupils to have said that the new uniform will help get the school an “outstanding” rating.
On the face of it, this makes no sense at all: how does moving to a new building provide an opportunity for a new uniform? However in the assembly when the new uniform was presented, it was explained that there would be lots of press and photo opportunities because of the new building and that the blazer would help everyone look extra smart. Once again, the benefit of this for the pupils, or even for an already over-subscribed school is not explained.
The school have provided no evidence of any benefit of this change in the uniform. The extra expense goes against the advice of the DfE and the NGA. Please can you intervene to prevent this change in the uniform? Perhaps you would be able to attend the consultation evening on 25th January?
Additional cost calculation
This calculation tries to take into account the fact that some children (half in this model) would have needed new skirts or shirts anyway as they move into a new year and so there would be no additional cost for some items. It also assumes that half of the girls wear blouses unsuitable for ties but that half already have suitable shirts. Hence the additional cost of shirts for girls instead of blouses is £24 halved to take into account those with shirts already and halved again to take into account those who would have needed new shirts anyway. Similarly, the additional cost for green skirts is halved as some pupils would be buying new anyway.
The calculation can be found in an online spreadsheet
Note, the school is expanding to 12 form entry (360 per year) starting with the new year 7 in 2017.