School Uniform Consultation

Posted in Posted on 2017-01-13 17:06

Bitterne Park Secondary School are consulting on whether to have a green blazer or a black blazer as a mandatory part of the uniform. The consultation does not actually seem to be about whether to change the uniform, merely a choice between green and black variations. Their presentation shows that this would be an additional £26 to £31 cost per blazer and I cannot see any justification for it.

2017-01-14: I’ve updated this blog post now I realise that the consultation is just about a choice between green and black variations. We, as parents, are not being asked our opinion about having a blazer or not.

The proposal is that the blazer will be optional for those students moving into year 11 (the last year). Apparently so far there has been input from “pupil panels”, “pupil drop ins”, “staff input” and “governor input”. All pupils will wear blazers, shirts and ties and girls will wear a green pencil skirt or black pleated skirt (to be decided).

I’m not quite sure how many students there will be at Bitterne Park in years 7-10 when the 2017/18 academic year starts but it could be around 1500 (there were 1610 pupils on the roll in Jun 2014 according to Ofsted). That means it will cost around £40,000 to kit out years 7-10 with blazers, potentially all going to SkoolKit! All girls, including those going into the last year, will also need ties at £4 each so that will be another £3,000. Some girls currently wear blouses which do not button up at the neck and would be unsuitable for ties so a new shirt would also be required for them. If the green pencil skirt is chosen (to go with a black blazer) then the girls will all need new skirts.

The presentation states that “All of these items will be available from Skoolkit but we are also looking at lines of supply”, presumably meaning they are also looking at alternative suppliers. There is an interesting point here regarding competition law: in 2015 the Competition and Markets Authority wrote to schools urging them to make school uniforms available at the best prices possible and to ensure that there is competition in suppliers. Right now, Skoolkit have a monopoly on the branded items that pupils must wear, and this is potentially against competition law. I wonder when the last tendering competition for Bitterne Park uniforms was run?

The letter states:

As a Head teacher & governing board you need to ensure that you take on board parents’ and carers’ views on school uniform policy and that you prioritise providing value for money when selecting your school uniform suppliers and retailers. In addition we strongly recommend that you call for a review of your school’s current uniform arrangements with any exclusive supplier or retailer with a view to ensuring that future school uniform policy looks to drive competition between suppliers and retailers, whether by appointing several outlets, or where there is a specific justification for not doing so, ensuring that the sole outlet is subject to a competitive tender on a regular basis.

The school is asked to “prioritise providing value for money”. If we have to have a uniform then I don’t see why any of it needs to be branded with the school logo: it inevitably pushes up the costs for parents (by £5 to £10 per item). Currently the polo shirts and jumpers have embroidered logos on but why do we have that even? In the DfE’s school uniform guidance from September 2013 under “The importance of cost consideration” you can read:

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.

So schools “should keep compulsory branded items to a minimum”. It seems to me that the “minimum” is zero, is it not? The same document cites the example of Caldew School in Cumbria which does have 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.

I wonder why the governing body have approved these plans? The DfE says governing bodies “should give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents”. In response to the CMA letter, 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.

I don’t see how introducing a branded blazer available from possibly just one supplier is making “every effort”. Furthermore, there is scant evidence for the benefits of school uniforms at all. For more detail on that, see my response to the consultation below.

One other point I didn’t put in my consultation response, is that surely they should allow boys to wear skirts if they want to? Many other schools are now introducing “gender neutral” uniform policies.

I hope that the school publishes a summary of the feedback received.

My response (ammended and resubmitted):

I disagree with your proposal for changing the uniform. I am disappointed that the consultation seems to be just about a choice between green and black items: I would have hoped that you would consult on whether to change the uniform at all.

The school uniform advice from the DfE <> holds up as an example a school which has removed blazers from their uniform as parents did not consider them practical. The same advice says that “governing bodies should give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents”. This does not appear to be the case here where you are imposing an impractical garment and additional costs on parents.

If you must impose a uniform (and there is scant evidence of the benefits of this) then I would ask you to remove all items with the school logo on as this inevitably pushes up costs. The uniform should also be gender-neutral: there is no need to mandate different clothes for boys and girls. If you must use branded items then I am concerned that you are providing Skoolkit with a monopoly position in supplying these, potentially in breach of competition law.

According to your presentation, the change will cost the parents of each child £26 to £31 per blazer. Additional costs will also be incurred for girls who will need a tie, potentially new shirts and potentially new skirts. I wonder how many blazers a child will need over 5 years of often rapid growth?

I can see no justification for imposing this additional cost on parents.

Your rationale is as follows (with my comments embedded):

  • A more consistent, smarter image

    Why do we need this? What is the benefit?

  • Raising Standards

    What is your evidence for this assertion? 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.”

  • Parity with schools in Southampton

    What benefit does this bring?

  • Aspirational - Outstanding Schools

    I don’t understand this statement. If you mean that changing the uniform will help move the school from being “good” to being “outstanding” in the next Ofsted inspection then I would remind you of the content of the last inspection:

    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 there of there being any issue related to the uniform.

  • Opportunity of moving into new building in September 2017

    Please explain how moving into a new building provides an opportunity for changing the uniform?

All in all, I do not see the advantage of having a uniform at all. Before imposing a significant additional cost on parents I think you should provide significant justification.


Comments powered by Disqus