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Barton Manor School uniform cost sparks concern for hard-up families


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Hard-up families face forking out hundreds of pounds on school uniform in the absence of second-hand alternatives at a new secondary school.

Questions have been raised over the number of “branded” items pupils will be required to wear at Barton Manor in Canterbury when it opens in September.

The new Barton Manor School will open in September
The new Barton Manor School will open in September

Parents face bills of up to £142 for the mandatory schoolwear - on top of the cost of shirts, shoes, trainers, bags and coats that can be bought cheaper elsewhere.

A blazer will set families back as much as £49, a skirt £33, and PE socks £12.75.

The cost of the items is on a par with many other secondaries but, with no previously worn uniform available at heavily discounted prices, parents have no choice but to fork out.

Critics believe the situation could "pose a barrier" to those already struggling during the ongoing cost of living crisis.

One parent said: "Assuming my daughter has just one jumper, one skirt etc, I have costed the uniform as £340. As she is tall this rises to £373 if she needs adult sizes.

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"I have based my calculations on buying as many items as I am allowed from Asda or Sports Direct.

"We are lucky to be able to finance this, but I am worried about the families that can't.

"With massive household costs, this extra expense might pose a barrier to letting their child go to this school."

New government legislation set to be introduced this September advises schools to limit the amount of branded uniform items, in a bid to make clothing more affordable.

Parents have pointed out Barton Manor has "many" branded items, although the school says this amount has been "kept to a minimum".

Labour city councillor Dave Wilson, who represents Barton ward, describes the uniform list as "remarkably insensitive and out-of-touch with the financial position so many families are facing".

"This is an issue that could easily have been avoided if Barton Manor had either chosen an unbranded generic uniform, or multiple suppliers,” he said.

City councillor Dave Wilson
City councillor Dave Wilson

"I'm very disappointed that, with all the cost pressures parents are facing today, the school has failed to consider the impact of this.

"I think lots of parents, who can't afford it particularly right now, are going to find themselves quite significantly out-of-pocket."

He added that parents will need to buy multiple sets of certain items, to allow for them needing to be washed.

"So the cost keeps escalating," he said.

"This is not an issue confined to Barton Manor, but it is not obvious to me why so many items have to be branded.

"When I went to secondary school, all we had to buy that was standard was a tie and a school badge to sew onto a blazer, plus a sports top.

"Every other item was generic. The way uniform requirements have escalated is unnecessary. It has nothing to do with educational need."

Barton Manor's executive head teacher, Kirstin Cardus, has defended the uniform, saying it has been designed with the new legislation in mind.

"The number of branded or logo items has been kept to a minimum, and the uniform has been designed to be unisex, so items are inclusive, and can easily be handed down to siblings in the future," she said.

Kirstin Cardus, executive head teacher at Barton Manor. Picture: Chris Davey
Kirstin Cardus, executive head teacher at Barton Manor. Picture: Chris Davey

"Not all items on the uniform list are branded and not all items are essential. The sports kit for example has three essential items - top, skort/short, socks."

Barton Manor says Tunbridge Wells-based uniform supplier Simmonds is currently giving all families a 10% discount, while a "significant" reduction is available for families eligible for free school meals.

But only certain pupils are eligible for this, including those with parents receiving income support, or those on Universal Credit whose after-tax household income is below £7,400.

Ms Cardus added: "(Barton Manor's) uniform supplier has been chosen to provide best value, items that are of quality, within a reasonable price, that should last parents at least two years.

“The uniform is designed to wash easily and maintain its quality and shape."

At fellow city secondary Canterbury Academy, uniform requirements are similar to those at Barton Manor, but branded items are generally cheaper, including blazers, skirts and jumpers that each cost about £10 less.

Blazers at Barton Manor’s sister school - Barton Court Grammar - even come in at £10 cheaper.

The £20 million Barton Manor is the first new school to be built in Canterbury in almost 60 years.

Just 150 Year 7s will be welcomed when the non-selective opens its door this autumn, with a new cohort joining every September after that.

The new Barton Manor School in Canterbury
The new Barton Manor School in Canterbury

By 2026, Barton Manor will have five year groups, and hopes to then offer sixth form provision.

When at capacity, it will cater for 1,050 pupils aged 11 to 18.

New rules to keep uniform costs down

The government is introducing new rules this autumn that aim to make uniform affordable for all.

The Department for Education (DfE) guidance means schools must ensure uniform costs are "reasonable", and parents get the best value for money.

Research from 2015 showed parents could save almost £50 on average if they can buy all uniform items from any store, instead of from a designated shop or school.

From this autumn, schools will be required to help keep costs down by taking steps to remove "unnecessary branded items" and allowing more high-street options, such as supermarket own-brand uniform.

To support families, schools must also make sure second-hand uniforms are available.

"This new binding guidance will help to make uniforms far more affordable for families by driving costs down..."

Secretary of State for Education Nadhim Zahawi says the rules will help ensure uniform "does not restrict where pupils go to school".

He said: "School uniform provides a sense of identity and community for children and young people, and should be a real source of pride. But it must never be a burden for parents or a barrier to pupils accessing education.

"This new binding guidance will help to make uniforms far more affordable for families by driving costs down.

"Schools should make sure their uniform policy is published on their website and is clear and easy for parents to understand.

"The new guidance also requires schools to use competitive and transparent contracts with suppliers.

"Schools should make sure their uniform policy is published on their website and is clear and easy for parents to understand..."

"Schools are expected to have taken steps to adhere to the new guidance before parents buy uniform for the academic year beginning in September 2022."

The new guidance has been welcomed by many, including charity The Children's Society.

Chief executive Mark Russell said: "For too many years the cost of school uniform has been a heavy financial burden on many families, causing money worries and even debt, so these new guidelines to make sure school uniforms are affordable are extremely welcome.

"Until now, too many parents have had to fork out for expensive branded items rather than cheaper alternatives, while having to cut back on essentials like food or heating.

"So we hope schools are able to start working with the guidance, which should ultimately make it much easier for families to kit out their children for school without breaking the bank."

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