Statutory guidance on school uniforms released – what schools need to do

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Published: 14th December 2021
Area: Corporate & Commercial

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On 19 November 2021, the DfE published new statutory guidance on the Cost of School Uniforms. The guidance applies to academies (including academy trusts) and maintained schools, and governing bodies must consider the guidance when developing and implementing their school uniform policies. All establishments will need to comply by 2023.

What is the purpose of the new school uniform guidance?

The purpose of the guidance is to ensure that the total cost of school uniform is reasonable and that it secures the best value for money (including in durability and quality) so that the cost of uniform is not a barrier or consideration for parents when making a decision about which school to apply to or attend.

The main ‘take home’ points from the guidance are:

Schools should engage with parents and pupils in the preparation of its uniform policy and should be able to demonstrate that these views have been considered.

The school uniform policy should be clear to understand. It must be published on the school website and made available to parents and prospective parents when required.

The highest priority should be given to the cost and quality of products. The guidance sets out specific requirements for supply arrangements and tendering which must be adhered to. Specifically, single supplier contracts should be avoided unless competitive tenders are run. These must be retendered every five years as a minimum.

Branded items should be kept to a minimum and preferably restricted to items that are long lasting or where multiples are not required (i.e. branded school ties, rather than school shirts). Branded items are not only items with the school logo or branding, but are any item that contains a distinctive characteristic that makes it unique to the school (i.e. coloured trim, specific design, or a specific fabric). This is a key aspect of the guidance and schools should ensure this section is read in full and understood.

Schools should ensure that second hand uniform is available, and information regarding these arrangements should be clearly published on the school’s website and within the uniform policy.

Schools should also take into account all items of uniform or clothing parents will need to provide while their child is at the school. This includes items in their PE kit.

Complaints regarding uniform should be handled internally in accordance with the school’s complaints policy.

The purpose of uniform policies

Whilst it is for the governing body to decide a school’s policy on uniform, the DfE strongly encourage schools to have a uniform to promote a sense of ethos in the school; to provide a sense of belonging and identity; and to set an appropriate tone for education.

A uniform creates a common identity among pupils and acts as a social leveller. A uniform can also reduce bullying and peer pressure by insisting all pupils are dressed similarly. That being said, if a uniform policy requires uniform that is too expensive so much so that a distinction can be made between those that can afford it and those that can’t, this will negate the benefits associated with a uniform, and may result in bullying, reduced attendance and lack of participation from certain pupils.

Equality considerations

Uniform should be affordable, practical, and must comply with the obligations under the Equality Act 2010.

Schools should aim for uniform policies to be as inclusive as possible and should be considerate in their application of the policy so that all pupils are able to wear the uniform.

The non-statutory guidance “School uniform: guidance for schools” which should be read in conjunction with the statutory guidance sets out specific guidance on drafting a uniform policy that does not fall foul of the Equality Act 2010, specifically in relation to the requirements of dress associated with some religions and beliefs.

It does clarify that schools are able to have different uniform requirements for girls and boys, but it is clear that it must not indirectly discriminate between genders, for example, by the requirements for girls’ uniform being more expensive than boys’ uniform.

Schools should consider taking legal advice if there are certain requirements for uniform or dress which may be problematic.

Schools should also engage with pupils and parents when developing their uniform requirements to ensure that it is suitable for the community. A school must be willing to be flexible and allow for some individual variations when necessary to avoid discrimination and should recognise that a uniform policy and what is acceptable and appropriate may change over time.

What do schools need to do?

In light of this guidance, schools must undertake a review of its existing uniform policy to determine what changes (if any) are required. Regular reviews of the policy should be carried out to ensure it is still fit for purpose, however, schools must avoid making frequent changes to specification to minimise the financial impact on parents.

If a school needs to make changes to existing uniform requirements, it must work with its existing suppliers to agree on a sensible transition period. Where a competitive process needs to be carried out for a supplier, the contract should be in place by December 2022 so the provision of uniform in Summer 2023 is not interrupted.

Schools must be compliant with much of the guidance by September 2022, and fully compliant by Summer 2023 unless one of the limited exceptions in the guidance applies.

With this in mind, schools must take the following steps before parents begin purchasing school uniform in Summer 2022:

  1. Review the existing uniform policy to identify whether any changes are required, taking professional advice if in doubt

  2. Make necessary changes to uniform specification, including removing any unnecessary branded items, keeping in mind how the changes might impact different groups of pupils disproportionately

  3. Ensure that the policy clearly states:
    • whether an item is optional or required;
    • if it will be required all year round, or just for particular times of the year;
    • if it needs to be obtained from a specific supplier; and
    • whether or not a generic item in place of a branded item will be acceptable

  4. Publish the updated uniform policy on the school website and make it available for parents and prospective parents

  5. Ensure arrangements for purchasing second hand uniform (whether in school or via an established scheme) are introduced and signposted

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