School Uniforms: A Stealth Tax on Education?

All of Havering’s academies have single supplier contracts.1 Parents are captured by this arrangement. They’ve no choice what to buy, where to buy or how much to pay. School uniforms are mandatory. This is contrary to government advice (see Addendum). Multi-academy groups are big businesses who ‘deliver’ thousands of customers to a preferred supplier.2 (It would be interesting to see what’s in it for them, but we can’t because they’re unaccountable.)

The commercial aspect is obnoxious but so’s the ruthless enforcement of uniform policies.3 Ties are crucial to learning in Havering’s secondary schools according to their discipline codes. Where else, in Britain, are expensive blazers worn? Black polished shoes but not black trainers? School logo hoodies but not ones without a logo? Havering’s uniforms are a throwback to the 1950s.

Havering’s secondary academy parents pay about £3004 for uniforms to fulfil a legal obligation …sending their children to school. If they don’t buy a uniform their child can’t even enter school buildings. Not buying a uniform isn’t failing an educational requirement. It’s avoiding a stealth tax.

The education stealth tax goes like this:

  • Children must attend school
  • Children must wear school uniform
  • Pay up, or else!

Addendum: Statutory advice on school uniforms

Single supplier contracts should be avoided unless regular tendering competitions are run where more than one supplier can compete for the contract and where the best value for money is secured. This contract should be retendered at least every 5 years….Schools should keep the use of branded items to a minimum. (my emphasis)

Source Cost of school uniforms – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Notes

1 Coopers Coburn appear to have changed supplier but it’s unclear if that was after retendering. Research for this blog was done on 4th August, 2022 using school websites

2 Harris Academy group has 28 secondary schools amongst which is Harris Academy Rainham. Harris academy group – Yahoo Search Results Their uniform supplier is Khalsa Schoolwear as it is for all their secondary schools. This contract ‘delivers’ about 20,000-30,000 Harris students nationwide.

3 To the point that students can be excluded from school as non-compliance is interpreted as a major discipline challenge… Like carrying a knife or selling drugs.

4 The pandemic revealed that whilst parents were shelling out for school uniforms they couldn’t afford laptops for their children. Laptops, it was quickly discovered, are essential to education in the 21st century; unlike blazers.

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