Thursday, 3 December 2015

From Our Chair David Burgess

The Schoolwear Association (SA) welcomes the Chancellor's announcement that the DfE Uniform Guidelines will become statutory. Since our inception in 2006 we have been the voice of our industry and we have striven to communicate the complexities of supply in our market. We believe that Mr Osborne’s announcement will create greater certainty for schools when they make decisions to procure proper and fitting school uniform.

We believe that schools generally make sensible and pragmatic decisions about supply, price and the balance of school uniform.

Most people recognise the benefits that a good quality, school-specific uniform confers on a school and its pupils. Research by Oxford Brookes University this summer supported our contention that school uniform usually represents excellent value, not just for the benefits it brings in improved behaviour, learning and child safety but also on parents’ pockets when compared to the cost of clothes that children wear out of school. So we find it disappointing that some pressure groups have quoted inflated prices to make their point and catch a headline that we simply do not recognise as the norm.

The Oxford Brookes University research brings some much-needed balance to the debate and some more realistic figures on the price of a complete school uniform over an average of 100 state schools.
We recognise that we have some way to go to educate and inform those outside of our industry about how it actually works, but we welcome the opportunity.

Both the Department for Education (DfE) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) advise us that the instances of real complaints received from parents are small and have continued to fall. We find this reassuring and at odds with the negative rhetoric that we sometimes see broadcast. Of course we understand that when a uniform is specified there is always the likelihood that someone will find issues with it. We recommend schools seek balance in a uniform with a mix of items specific to the school and other items of a more generic nature. Our members’ experience is that most parents are happy with the arrangements of their school. A proper tendering process will help schools to decide the best arrangements for their needs.  

We remain concerned about the plight of children who, for whatever reason, find it difficult to afford school uniform. Our members continue to work with schools and charities to try to assist, and collectively we donate many garments to those in need. We will continue to work with our partners to find ways to ensure that every child, whatever his or her circumstances, has access to a well-made, long-lasting, school-specific uniform. We are issuing advice for our members and schools on best practice in procurement and supply processes to help ensure uniform remains affordable. This is work that we will continue to do, and we will happily contribute to the debate and offer our support to that process with all interested parties.

Our collective experience tells us that school uniform works best when it includes school-specific items. The idea that our children should wear generic uniform available from anywhere would create a difficult situation for schools and lead to the breakdown of this essential part of our school culture. We believe passionately that school-specific uniform is a key part of what gives a school its identity and helps it to maintain discipline and respect. Our research shows that school students, parents, teachers, head teachers and governors overwhelmingly agree.

We will continue to work with partners and other stakeholders to help improve every aspect of uniform supply. Our members commit via our Code of Practice to supply EVERY child. This will include all shapes and sizes and indeed those with special needs such as allergies or disabilities. Dedicated school uniform suppliers will supply uniform for every child who needs it all year, not just at the more lucrative back to school period over the summer holidays.

The Schoolwear Association is dedicated to working with everyone involved in the supply chain to help deliver the best value, which is always a combination of quality, consistency, service, availability and price. We look forward to helping schools with their uniform decisions, in whatever way we can.

David Burgess, Chair of The Schoolwear Association

The Schoolwear Association was formed in 2006 to promote the benefits of school specific uniform and to establish strong standards in the supply chain of garments to parents and schools.

The Association is proud to have in excess of 200 supplier and retail members who pay a subscription to support the work of the Association. The industry has adopted a code of practice and works with schools to further the provision of good school uniform and all the benefits that confers on both the school, and the students. Their members supply 75% of all schools in the UK.

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