Parents implore schools to ditch expensive brands as school uniform costs soar

Our readers have urged schools to opt for more generic school uniform clothing to help reduce costs as the far-reaching cost of living crisis continues.

With the new school term just weeks away, many parents are struggling with the costs of school uniforms.

It comes as families are already struggling financially due to the far-reaching cost of living crisis, which has seen energy bills, the cost of petrol, and the weekly food shop prices amongst other household bills soar.

Lisburn’s School Uniform Bank, which is based at Trinity Methodist Church, has reported it has been ''inundated with struggling parents this summer'', with new tiny design changes in uniforms forcing some parents to alter older clothes by a marker pen instead of buying new clothes.

Parents are struggling financially with the costs of school uniforms amid the soaring cost of living crisis

The SUB, which is engaging with dozens of parents on a daily basis, is supported by the Rev Alan Craig of Trinity Methodist Church who provides space for the donation of school uniforms.

And Emma Davis, who reports her charity is already inundated with worried families unable to pay for new school clothing, predicted that August would see demand ''triple.''

“I would ask schools to have a heart and treat everyone the same.

“There is no need to have uniforms made by a certain clothing label.

Lisburn SUB founder Emma Davis

“We need to see more generic clothing, a lot of which we have here at the SUB including trousers, skirts, socks and even school bags.''

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Struggle for local parents

Tony Curran said: ''Make all school uniforms the same generic style with the tie being the only differing element of it, all the branded and badged stuff is what pushes costs up.''

The concept of a more generic school uniform proved popular, with many comments querying why schools cannot all have the same standard uniforms, with just a patch that signifies the school or different ties.

Hope Uniform Bank

Elaine Sloan agreed, stating: ''All schools should have to wear the same uniform with the exception of the tie and badge on the blazer,'' which was echoed further by Patricia Keery, who feels a completely generic uniform would greatly help reduce costs for struggling families:

''Grey trousers or skirt. White shirt or Polo shirt and tie and sweatshirt. No need for all these expensive uniforms which a lot of people can't afford,'' she said.

Meanwhile, Pamela Phelan urged the schools themselves to consider recycling initiatives.

''Encourage parents to recycle uniforms. The school could set up a swap shop one evening a month. A parent could go along and get what's needed without the pupils potentially feeling embarrassed.''

It comes as many schools have exclusive preferred suppliers who charge a premium and show no flexibility.

A failure to be able to afford the uniform can result in censure from the school and bullying of pupils by other pupils.

Mother of two, Rosie, speaking on the Nolan show on Tuesday, August 9 said: ''A sports kit, of three items, for just one of my children cost me £68.

''Summer is more expensive anyway with the children being off school with the shopping bills and the cost of summer camps has gone up. That is before we have to budget £1,000 to get the children just dressed to go to school.

''The price of two blazers for my two daughters cost £300.''

Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, also told the BBC Nolan Show on Tuesday morning: ''In 2017 the average cost of post-primary school uniform was in the low £200s.

''Now it is estimated to be as high as between £500 and £600 for post-primary school. That is unaffordable. In England there is a regulation coming in in September that schools should avoid branded uniform and ensure there is value for money.''

On the importance of local clothing banks who have stepped up to ensure children are not having to go without, Ms Yiasouma spoke of her gratitude at the vital role they are playing, but insisted we should not be in a place where relying on such measures is necessary and that steps need to be taken to combat escalating prices:

''We shouldn't have to rely on charity to give children their rights. I am so grateful to food banks and clothing banks, but we should not have to rely on these to give children their basic needs.''

It comes as local schools cite as many as over a dozen items of essential ''basic'' school uniform, with a separate additional necessary 12 items for Physical Exercise.

Of those listed for physical exercise, one school specifies that pupils must have tennis whites, a tennis racket and hockey equipment, in addition to spiked running shoes and a hockey uniform - with a senior hockey kit to be worn on Saturday only.

School blazers are among the most expensive single items, with one example of a local school's girls' and boys' blazer costing £84.95; whilst a sixth form blazer retails at: £79.95.

Having to buy a specific sixth form college blazer is a common theme, meaning parents cannot reuse the blazer from the previous year due to a minor difference in design or crest.

For example, another school's standard college blazer retails at: £69.95; whilst the sixth form college is £10 more expensive; at £79.95.

Other schools have specific 'Prefect ties', one of which retails at a cost of £12.99, whilst others have a 'summer blouse' which retails at £32.95.

Physical Exercise kits are another necessary purchase; with one school's Rugby top retailing from £49.95; whilst a games shirt costs from £47.50.Another's junior track bottoms retail at £41.95; whilst the adult track bottoms will cost £49.95. The same school's zip top costs £44.95.

Meanwhile, one school specifies that training shoes must be suitable for impact sports: ''not fashion trainers'', meaning parents may have to buy a new pair specific to the exact requirements.

In addition to the school uniform bank in Trinity Methodist Church, a new school uniform bank has also been set up at Hope Church, Hillsborough, with clean, recycled uniforms available for the following schools:

Dromore High School; Banbridge Academy; Friends School Lisburn; Wallace High School; Beechlawn School; Laurelhill Community College; Victoria College; RBAI; Junior High; Rowendale Integrated PS; Meadowbridge PS; Annahilt PS; Dromore Central PS; Riverdale PS; Downshire PS.

They have also appealed for ''good quality lunch bags, school bags and pencil cases.''