Schoolwear Association briefing: Education (Guidance about the Costs of School Uniforms) Bill FAQs

March 2021

What is the Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill?

The Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill is a Private Member’s Bill that will potentially be passed in the coming months. The Bill is designed to make it a legal requirement for schools to be able to demonstrate that they have consulted with Department for Education guidance when setting their school uniform policy.

The current guidance from the Department for Education was most recently published in 2013, which strongly encourages that schools have a uniform, is at present not on a statutory footing.

What does the new Bill mean for schools in practice?

If a school is broadly following the DfE’s guidance already, there is likely to be little impact, and they should be able to continue with their current uniform policy. In mandating the DfE’s guidelines Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, has made it clear that during the passage of the Bill  the government considers the current guidance as a good basis for legislation. He also stated that uniform has a definite part to play in school life and recognised the benefits of a sensible uniform policy which includes the use of branded items where appropriate.

However, it should be noted that we have been advised there are likely to be a few amendments to the current guidance, which the DfE is currently drafting and will publish in due course.

When do the new guidelines take effect?

The Education Bill is currently progressing through the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent. The Education Minister, Nick Gibb, confirmed in the recent House of Commons debate that the Bill would not take effect for the school year starting in September 2021 – meaning that schools can continue with their existing uniform provision arrangements.

What does a sensible uniform policy look like?

The Schoolwear Association encourages all schools to adopt a sensible uniform policy, which will deliver the many widely supported benefits an effective uniform provides. A sensible policy should take a number of factors into account including value for parents, the quality and durability of garments, as well as its impact on the environment. Better quality garments increase the longevity of school uniform, which also helps to facilitate an effective secondhand service within a school environment.

An effective uniform policy creates consistency across a school, increases unity and discipline amongst pupils, and acts as a social leveler – reducing the risk of peer pressure or bullying associated with wearing the latest fashion trends.

Will schools still be able to appoint only one supplier?

Yes. Sole Supplier arrangements will still be able to be in place after the Bill has come into effect. Nick Gibb recognised the benefits of these in the recent House of Commons debate. However, where there is a sole supplier arrangement in place, schools will have to show that that they have undertaken an appropriate procurement process at least every five years. If a school has done so within the last five years, however, it is our understanding that they will not need to do anything further for now.

Sole supply arrangements offer a number of practical benefits including lower costs due to economies of scale, better guarantee of supply all year round for schools, parents and pupils alike, and support on a local level for those parents who are really struggling with uniform costs.

How is an appropriate tendering process effected, and how should school’s go about undertaking this?

We understand that the revised DfE guidance will deal with any specific requirements when published, but equally that schools will need to demonstrate a process that is appropriate to the overall value of the uniform contract. In practice we think this means that whilst larger contracts (over £180,000 during their lifetime) will need to undergo a formal tendering process, contracts below this value will not need to be so detailed.

The Schoolwear Association will be supporting this process in the coming months to ensure that schools are able to tender appropriately in the easiest way. We know that effective tendering helps to ensure parents and families get the best value and service from their uniform retailers.

Key considerations when tendering for a uniform include costs, product quality, ethical sourcing issues, and the ability to service the business to the satisfaction of both the school and the parents – more information can be found at the Schoolwear Association’s tender guidance page.

We would encourage schools to consider uniform suppliers that are members of the Schoolwear Association and have signed our stringent Code of Practice which sets industry best practice.