School uniform cost curb ‘may not work’

A Government drive to help cut the cost of school uniforms may be doomed to failure because it does not extend to academies and free schools, a Yorkshire Liberal Democrat MP has warned.

David Ward, the MP for Bradford East and a member of the Commons education committee, told the Yorkshire Post he believes some schools deliberately hike up the cost of uniforms in an effort to exclude more deprived pupils.

“I am convinced this is happening, and the Government is right to try to address it,” he said. “It is a form of backdoor selection.

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“But if it doesn’t apply to academies and free schools then I’m not sure what it’s going to achieve.”

Mr Ward, who had the Lib Dem whip again this weekend following his suspension from the party over remarks he made about Israel, warned the Government’s new guidance could actually increase the divide between traditional local authority-led school and academies, which are outside of council control and so not required to adhere to their rules.

“We could see the difference between uniform prices in different types of school increase,” he said.

Lib Dem Education Minister David Laws announced yesterday that schools will be issued with new guidance instructing them to stop using exclusive single-supplier contracts, unless regular tendering processes are run to ensure firms provide value for money.

The move follows a report by the Office of Fair Trading which suggested such deals are adding £5 to the cost of the average uniform.

Schools will also be told not to enter into “cashback” agreements with shops, and to keep any branding “to a minimum”.

Stephen Twigg MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said his party had been calling for action on school uniform prices for the past 12 months.

“The Lib Dems have done nothing for three years,” he said.