Every step towards affordable school uniform is a step in the right direction, however, the requirements for set out in the Education Bill (April 2021) do not go far enough for the families we support. A lot of work still needs to be done to make the requirements a reality and the wording of this bill leaves a lot of room for schools avoid the changes that are really needed to make uniforms truly affordable. The truth is, even with these recommendations school uniform is still a cost that many household budgets cannot stretch to.
At First Days we believe school uniform should reflect the needs of the child as well as balancing the tradition of the school. Children need to feel equal to their peers, well equipped and comfortable in order to get the best from their education (Tess Ridge’s research explains more - check out The Working Class by Ian Gilbert).
Schools need a uniform that encourages a good learning environment, and parents need to not be expected to spend, as is true for those with the lowest income, over three weeks full income on school uniform alone.
We’ve given out thousands of new and second hand items of school uniform over the last three years, since our pilot project started in 2018. We’ve learned two key things that have informed how our project has grown and is now being delivered:
Firstly, school uniform policies are often arbitrarily complicated, sometimes bizarre, and almost always unnecessarily expensive. I find myself wanting to ask schools: ‘If a child isn’t going to be an estate agent, why do they need to wear a blazer every school day for five years?’ and ‘what justification is there for a PE t-shirt to cost £25 a pop?’ In the words of one parent on twitter ‘my child can loiter at the back of PE lessons just as effectively in generic shorts and t-shirt’. School uniforms do not need to be ‘as they always have been’, they need to be the best clothes for a child to be wearing to get the best out of their education.
Secondly we learned that, that, unfortunately for lovers of the iconic line from Field of Dreams, ‘if you build it … they won’t come’. We found that having a central location for those who most need our help to access school uniform simply doesn’t work. People who need our help often have no means of transport and find getting to a central location daunting and stressful. They don’t turn up, or they place an order via text and we spend hours going back and forth of family homes with sizes and styles that children want or need.
We have removed this barrier to our service and take the uniform to the people who need it the most in our local hubs or our mobile school uniform hub (fancy van, kitted out with a changing room and school uniform!).
Meaning that children can come to one of our hubs, which is on their doorstep (literally in the case of our mobile hub!) and they can choose their own uniform, be sure it fits them and be confident that they will be starting school with everything they need. Our uniform hubs are run by people who live in the community that they are placed in, meaning that we build friendships and create an authentic, dignifying and meaningful way for one family to help another.
As schools navigate the requirements placed on them by the Education Bill, our School Uniform Project will continue to help schools achieve affordability of uniform by:
Making second hand uniform and equipment available to those who most need it and cannot afford even the cheapest items, either directly from one of our uniform hubs, or via our mobile hub.
Creating a de-stigmatised culture of second hand uniform recycling, empowering families to make the most of the resources in our communities, using a network of local Facebook groups, managed by our volunteers in their own community.
Use our in depth knowledge and experience in the field to help schools develop a truly affordable school uniform policy.
How you can be involved? If you are a school governor or leader, we would love to be involved in helping you craft your uniform policy in line with the new requirements. Please contact us.
If you are local to one of hubs - please consider volunteering either virtually or in person.
If you feel passionately that all children should be confident in school with the right uniform and equipment you can support our school uniform project by making a donation to the charity here.