Victoria Neumark – Friday August 22 2008
Debates over whether uniforms stifle creativity are largely a thing of the past: most headteachers believe in the power of a uniform to build ethos and level out inequality. But children grow fast. Over a school lifetime, uniforms will cost parents a substantial amount.
Higher-end uniform suppliers are already under pressure from a host of low-cost stores but, as inflation begins to bite, even cheaper suppliers may struggle to keep prices low. There are, however, things parents can do to ease the cost. You can buy early to avoid shortages and crowds, but don’t buy more than one size up; in shoes, no more than half a size. Buy second-hand, but not footwear. Damage to feet is worse than the expense of new shoes.
Last year supermarket chain Asda offered a complete uniform for less than £10, as did clothing chain Matalan, and bargains can still be found. Asda’s girl’s Teflon-protected box-pleat skirt sells from £2.50, Matalan’s from £3.50. No doubt there are arguments about quality, not to mention ethical considerations. For parents prepared to spend more money, John Lewis has a similar skirt for £14. Whether for financial or ethical reasons, don’t forget hand-me-downs and jumble sales. The school’s own uniform shop may well be your best bet and you are likely to have to buy ties directly from the school (£3-£6).
You will need at least two skirts or pairs of trousers – children fall over and get dirty. Littlewoods’ packs for boys or girls are £10. Online School Uniform Shop (schooluniformshop.co.uk) has Trutex skirts and trousers at £7-£14, depending on age and style. Special offers can halve price. Buy at least four non-iron shirts or blouses and five pairs of socks or tights (from £4-£12), to save time in the mornings. Source sweatshirts or pullovers in plain colours from the high street; if a logo is required, you are at the mercy of suppliers charging above £12. Buy a blazer – if needed – where everyone else does. Don’t cut corners: your child won’t want to stand out. Some blazers can run to £60, though £20-£40 is more usual.
Sometimes pupils want to cover up their school colours on the street with a coat. Respect this safety measure. For younger children, Woolworths or Matalan have good ranges from £8; for teenagers there is the disposable option from Primark (£20 up), the classic one from Debenhams (£16-£40), or the pricey option from Snow and Rock (£60).
Start-rite and Clarks lead the market in quality footwear, but Marks & Spencer (£14-£27) and Asda have acceptable stock. Stationery is always fun. Fill a pencil case with pens, pencils, geometry sets, glue sticks, erasers, pencil sharpeners at WH Smith, Tesco or Sainsbury’s for £12-£20. Make sure school bags can carry a large amount without damaging growing backs. Look in Millets, Blacks or Argos for sports bags and hikers’ day packs, from £15-£30. Really cheap ones tend to disintegrate.
Finally, for parents: an alarm clock and a whiteboard to stick on the fridge.
© Guardian News and Media Limited 2008