The start of the school year brings with it not just the excitement of new books and teachers, but also the looming costs of school uniforms. It’s more than just a shirt and trousers or a skirt; it’s an entire wardrobe with accessories that need regular updating. The Schoolwear Association has found the average cost of compulsory secondary school uniforms and sportswear items in England in 2023 is £96.24 per pupil.
In 2022, as many as 22% of pupils have been given detention due to uniform breaches. This high percentage suggests more than just individual non-compliance; it potentially signals systemic issues. Families, already grappling with financial constraints due to the cost of living crisis, might be finding it increasingly challenging to replace outgrown or worn-out uniforms, leading to these breaches.
For many parents, the yearly ritual of school uniform shopping can be a heavy hit to the wallet. Uniforms, intended to level the playing field, often come with a hefty price tag. Families with several kids or those on tight budgets can find this especially challenging.
Penfold has delved into the real cost of going back to school. Looking at how much UK households spend on their children’s school clothes annually and its implications on their budgets.
School uniform prices have been on an upward trajectory in recent years, with a recent year seeing a 0.5% rise in the cost of school uniforms. To discover how much school uniforms might cost from 2023 to 2030, we used a method that considers the rising effect of inflation each year. Starting with the 2023 cost, we increased it by 6.4% for inflation. For each following year, we added 6.4% to the new, higher amount. Doing this for each year until 2030, we got a list of rising prices, showing how inflation can make school uniforms more expensive over time.
Every parent knows the routine - you've barely finished buying a new school uniform before it seems your child has already outgrown it. But what might seem like a minor inconvenience has substantial financial implications over the years.
The average adolescent can experience growth spurts and thus outgrow their uniforms up to twice a year, causing expenses to mount up.
Taking this into account, if a secondary school student requires two new sets of uniforms in a year due to growth or wear and tear, that’s a potential outlay of £192.48 annually - nearly double the base cost.
Over the typical span of secondary education, which lasts for five years, the cumulative cost per child can soar up to an estimated £962.40 just on uniforms and sportswear. Extra costs can come from special clothes for certain subjects, lost items, or changes to the school's uniform rules. Plus, with prices of clothes going up every year, these costs can increase further.
School uniform grants are funds provided by governments, schools, or charities to help families pay for their children's school uniforms. The idea is to make sure all students can go to school without worrying about how they look or the cost of uniforms. Uniforms help create a united feeling in schools and reduce differences between richer and poorer students. They also prevent kids from feeling pressured to wear certain fashion brands. But for some families, buying uniforms can be expensive. These grants help to make sure that every child can have a uniform and feel a part of their school.
Money Saving Expert took the initiative to compile a comprehensive list of local councils that offer school uniform grants. See the bottom of this page for links to each support scheme.
The amount allocated for school uniform grants varies significantly between councils. In the data provided, Northern Ireland offers £93.60 for all its councils, while Scotland's grant amount varies, but each council provides at least £120. Wales offers a generous £200 for all councils. England displays the most variation in grant amounts among its councils, with grants ranging from as low as £25 (Sandwell) to as high as £160 (City of London and Wandsworth).
1. Second-hand Uniform Sales
Many UK schools, PTAs, or local community groups regularly host uniform sales. By purchasing gently used uniforms, parents can make considerable savings. These initiatives also resonate with our increasing focus on sustainable living, as reusing uniforms reduces waste.
2. Clothes Swapping Events
Community-driven clothes swaps are becoming increasingly popular in many UK towns and cities. Families can exchange uniforms that their children have outgrown, ensuring each garment sees extended use and fostering community collaboration.
3. Charity Shops
Shops like Oxfam, The Salvation Army, and local charity stores often stock school uniforms donated by families. These outlets provide affordable options and, simultaneously, support various charitable endeavours.
4. DIY Alterations
Tapping into the UK's rich tradition of crafts, parents can take to mending and altering uniforms at home. With resources like BBC's "Sewing Bee" offering inspiration, minor tweaks can give uniforms a fresh lease of life. For those less confident, community centres often run sewing workshops.
5. Bulk Buying and Group Purchases
Taking advantage of sales during events like "Back to School" promotions in UK retail stores such as Tesco, Sainsbury's, or ASDA can lead to significant savings. Collaborative purchases, facilitated by school communication platforms or apps like WhatsApp, can be a game-changer.
Pete Hykin, CEO and Co-Founder at Penfold, a workplace pension provider comments,
“The cost of school uniforms is no small matter for families. With the variables of location, gender, age, and brand choice in play, parents can find themselves facing substantial expenses. It’s essential for communities and schools to recognise these challenges and offer support where possible. As we gear up for another school year, understanding and addressing these costs will go a long way in easing the burden on parents' wallets.”