Government backs MP’s bill on school uniform costs

The government has announced it will be backing a bill from a backbench MP which would put current government guidance on school uniform costs into law.

Mike Amesbury, who is the Labour MP for Weaver Vale and a shadow work and pensions minister, introduced his ‘Education guidance about costs of school uniform’ bill last week. The legislation is a ‘private members bill’, a type of bill which is introduced by a backbench MP rather than as part of the government’s planned legislation. It is unusual for private member’s bills to make it all the way into law, but the government’s backing significantly increases the chances of the bill passing on to the statute books.

The Department for Education (DfE) introduced guidance on school uniform, which instructs schools to ‘give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents’ when sourcing uniforms. The guidance also suggests that exclusive single-supplier contracts for uniform should be avoided unless ‘regular tendering competitions are run where more than one supplier can compete for the contract and where best value for parents is secured’. However, as the DfE’s advice is currently only in the form of non-statutory guidance, there are no consequences for schools if they do not follow it. If the bill passes into law, it will then place a legal duty on schools to follow the guidance.

A survey by the Children’s Society in 2018 found that families were spending an average of £340 per year on uniform for each child at secondary school, while parents of primary school children spent £255 on average. In 2015 the government said that the guidance should be made statutory, but no concrete action followed. And in 2019 Lord Agnew, an education minister, said he intended to ‘go after’ schools which had ‘monopoly-type’ uniform supply deals, calling them ‘particularly pernicious’.

Explaining the government’s backing of Mr Amesbury’s bill, schools minister Nick Gibb said: ‘School uniforms should always be affordable and should not leave pupils or their families feeling that they cannot apply to a particular school. That is why we will be supporting the progress of this bill through Parliament, in order to make our guidance on the cost considerations for school uniform statutory at the earliest opportunity.’

Mr Amesbury said the response to his bill had been ‘hugely positive’. He added ‘I’m delighted that it’s received both government, and cross-party support. As we take this bill through Parliament I hope that other MPs will come onboard so we can help make a real difference for families who are struggling with the cost of school uniforms.’

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