Do you know? updates
Every week we receive a range of enquiries from member schools, mainly these are to our telephone helpline but also on occasions to our Do You Know? (DYK) online service. The queries sent in to DYK by schools are answered by one or other of our expert consultants and the anonymised replies are then made available on our website. We use the latest information available at the time, but inevitably our answers can be quite swiftly overtaken by events.
This has happened recently in the case of a query we received in March 2021:
What can we expect from any forthcoming statutory guidance on school uniform?
Our answer at the time explained that a private members bill had been put forward in January 2020 by Mike Amesbury MP for Weaver Vale. The bill proposed that it would become a legal requirement for schools to ensure that their uniforms are affordable. It also proposed that statutory guidance would follow which limited the number of branded uniform items bearing the school logo that parents were required to buy. Mr Amesbury had cross-party support for the bill, which easily passed its first Commons reading in January 2020 and the second in March 2020. It should have then gone straight on to the Commons committee and report stage. Because of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, parliamentary committee meetings were discontinued for a time, which held up any further progress.
But in the latter part of 2020/early 2021, the Commons committee and report stages did take place and the bill had its third reading in the Commons on 12 March 2021.When he presented the bill, Nick Gibb MP, School Standards Minister made points arising from the committee stage that said:
- Sole supplier contracts would not be banned, but school leaders would be required to re-tender every five years.
- The statutory guidance would say that the number of branded items should be kept to a minimum and limited to low cost or long-lasting items.
- Government advice to schools on carrying out good tenders would be forthcoming and suppliers would be required to place emphasis on value for money and quality.
- Second hand uniform can play a valuable role in keeping down costs but the provision of second hand facilities by every school would not become a statutory requirement.
The bill then proceeded to the House of Lords where it was sponsored by Baroness Lister of Burtersett.
This was the juncture at which we sent our reply. Our consultant could not at that point tell the enquirer how quickly the bill would become law but said that Mr Amesbury was hopeful that this could happen in time for the 2021/22 school year. We also expressed the certainty that schools would not in any case be expected to make any alterations to their school uniform policy for the academic year 2021/22.
Our predictions have proved correct. The bill passed rapidly through its House of Lords readings, committee and report stages, largely because it was un-opposed and there were therefore no amendments. The bill duly became law and received the Royal Assent on 29 April 2021.
The Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Act 2021 recognises the costs that parents pay for school uniform, particularly for branded items. It also includes measures on encouraging second-hand uniform, schools’ arrangements with suppliers and ensuring parents have access to clear information about uniform policies. The government can now set statutory guidance, due to be published in the autumn, for schools to consider about costs for uniforms. The statutory guidance will also advise schools to make sure that when they take up contracts with uniform suppliers they are competitive and transparent in order to keep costs down.
The government press release on 29 April stated ‘The government is committed to ensuring no family is deterred from applying to a school due to the costs for its uniform. Once guidance is published, schools will be required by law to consider it when developing their uniform policies’. The implication therefore is that schools will be expected to reflect this emphasis on low costs in the uniform lists they publish, probably in spring 2022.