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.

Havering’s Academies and School Uniform

All Havering’s secondary schools have a compulsory uniform policy. This appears to have parental support and is more-or-less uncontentious. Conflicts occur over detail: hairstyles and jewellery feature heavily in this respect.

Uncontentious or not, there’s a problem. The schools are a monopoly. Children must attend or be educated at home. (Home schooling isn’t viable for most parents. This is especially true at secondary level.)

Children are obliged to attend school and schools are publicly funded. Filters are only legitimate when there’s a shortage of spaces. How does a dress code get elevated to being a filter?

Schools are devoted to learning. It’s implausible to claim not wearing uniform harms learning in any way at all. It’s even less plausible to claim that a child not wearing uniform in some way harms learning for any other child. So why are they of critical importance in Havering?

Other national education systems don’t have school uniforms:

The best European school system is Finland. Finland routinely tops rankings of global education systems and is famous for having no banding systems — all pupils, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classes. As a result, the gap between the weakest and the strongest pupils is the smallest in the world. Finnish schools also give relatively little homework and have only one mandatory test at age 16.1

Havering’s academies aren’t outstanding but keep repeating the old routines. Perhaps spending less emotional energy on school uniform and more time on learning would be beneficial?

Note

1 The 11 best school systems in the world | The Independent | The Independent Compare this with the Coopers Coburn Academy policy on hairstyles. Their policy has a 192 words, which can be summarised in nine words as, ‘If we don’t like it, you can’t have it.’ Year-7_11-Uniform_March-2021.pdf (cooperscoborn.org.uk)