Can you buy cheap school uniforms? Poll Discussion

edited 30 August 2011 at 10:28PM in Money Saving Polls
44 replies 6.3K views
MSE_ArchnaMSE_Archna Former MSE
1.9K Posts
MSE Staff
edited 30 August 2011 at 10:28PM in Money Saving Polls
Are you allowed to buy cheap school uniforms?

Poll started 23 August 2011, click here to vote

Does your child's school let you buy from supermarkets or are you restricted to a specific shop?

Which of these is closest to your situation (you can vote in each category if you've children at different schools)?


My child goes to a state primary school (or any free school)

Whole uniform can be generic/supermarket
Uniform can be generic/supermarket but with iron on badges
It can be mostly generic but a few items must be from set suppliers
Everything but shirts/trousers must be branded from a specific supplier
Everything must be branded from a specific supplier
There's no school uniform

My child goes to a state senior school

Whole uniform can be generic/supermarket
Uniform can be generic/supermarket but with iron on badges
It can be mostly generic but a few items must be from set suppliers
Everything but shirts/trousers must be branded from a specific supplier
Everything must be branded from a specific supplier
There's no school uniform

My child goes to a private primary school (or any fee-paying school)

Whole uniform can be generic/supermarket
Uniform can be generic/supermarket but with iron on badges
It can be mostly generic but a few items must be from set suppliers
Everything but shirts/trousers must be branded from a specific supplier
Everything must be branded from a specific supplier
There's no school uniform

My child goes to a private senior school

Whole uniform can be generic/supermarket
Uniform can be generic/supermarket but with iron on badges
It can be mostly generic but a few items must be from set suppliers
Everything but shirts/trousers must be branded from a specific supplier
Everything must be branded from a specific supplier
There's no school uniform

Click reply to discuss
«1345

Replies

  • This makes me so cross! My son is going to secondary school this year, and a lot of my friends are single Mums or on low incomes. The majority of the local schools (in Bath, Somerset) seem to have one supplier for school wear and the children have to have: Sweatshirt or blazer, polo shirt, rugby top (boys only), p.e. top, p.e. shorts, p.e. socks - all with the school logo on which can only be bought from this one supplier. To give you an idea of the prices, I used to buy my boy's white polo shirts from Tesco/Asda etc and get 3 tops for under £5 - the branded polo shirts from this supplier cost £8.50 each! I would love to be able to buy clothes from a cheaper supplier and iron-on the badges but none of the local schools do this anymore, they all have embroidered logos on their uniforms, and you have to comply or your child gets in trouble for not wearing the correct uniform. They have second-hand uniform sales but to be honest by the time the kids are at secondary school they don't take care of their clothes any more and the stuff they had for sale when we went last time was awful - I think it stigmatises children to have old faded clothes, they get picked on for wearing second-hand stuff. I think the schools are completely irresponsible and should have a sweatshirt/blazer as a compulsory item but allow parents to buy the rest of the uniform from wherever they want. I would be interested to know if the schools receive a percentage of the profits from the supplier, that would explain a lot!
  • popadompopadom Forumite
    813 Posts
    Part of the Furniture 500 Posts Combo Breaker
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    Hi
    I used to have the same issue as a kid. Had to have blazers. My dad used to buy one from m/s (£20) and buy a sew on badge. By the second year in secondary school, they didnt care. What you could do, if the second hand blazers are cheap enough, is cut the embriodry bit off and sew on a new cheaper blazer.

    I agree, this isnt a fair practice. I do wonder sometimes if they do get profits.
  • I took on this challenge before my dtr started High School 3 years ago. I was disgusted at the prices and things only available from school shop. I had a meeting with Chair of Governors who was very anti and told me that I was the only person ever to complain. I had found an alternative cheaper supplier.

    After a month he got back to me and said he was going to reduce the prices in the shop (and yes the large profits were going to "school equipment"). This meant on some items as much as £5 decrease(plenty of profit). I kept on at them and over the next year we got a different supplier. Then last year with a new school building we abolished the school shop. Over the three years I have also got them to stop having a winter and a summer uniform. Polo shirts can now be worn all year where previously they only wore them for 8 weeks.

    I was interviewed by a couple of national sunday papers at the time.

    All I can say is keep badgering the schools. It can be changed. Must admit if I had a £ for every hours sleep I lost though I wouldnt need to be on here!!

    The problem comes from the guidance which says schools SHOULD ensure that the items are available from more than one supplier. If it said MUST, then all this would be easily sorted.

    We have had some new academies open here. They have some stupid uniforms but all kids have been given some items. They apparently do not come under the same guidance.

    Nothing will ever change if parents dont challenge it. We used to get a massive list of equipment the kids "needed" until I spoke to the head and gave him a list of things that my daughter had never used! Then he changed it.

    No one has the cash to waste anymore. I hope MSE might take this up as a new campaign??
  • I don't understand why more schools don't allow parents to buy iron on badges so we can buy all uniform from the supermarkets for a fraction of the cost of specialist suppliers. They still look really good - Springmead Priamry School got Our School Badge to make thier iron on badges for just £1 each...
  • edited 1 September 2011 at 5:54PM
    TechnoBadgerTechnoBadger Forumite
    153 Posts
    edited 1 September 2011 at 5:54PM
    School uniform can be expensive for a number of reasons.

    Firstly a school uniform shop has a full year's rent, a full year's rates, a full year's staff wages, a full year's manager's wages, a full year's bills to pay and still needs to make a profit! After all this expense most parents only darken their doorsteps for a few days just before the start of the new school year. I think it's a ridiculous business model, but by selling with a very high mark up they might just survive the current financial situation.

    Secondly many schools see the sale of their uniform as something they must profit from. And many do very well out of a shop's commission / donations etc. even though this money has probably added significantly to what their parents have to pay. Ultimately it has come out of the parents' pockets. And let's not forget that at primary level uniform cannot be compulsory - yes it's good for the children, I'm sure, but from a school's point of view a smart looking school is easier to sell to prospective new parents. If nicely clothed children are a walking advert for a school why should parents pay more than they need in order to achieve this?

    Thirdly money or goods given to a school by a supplier may well be part of an 'exclusive basis arrangement'. There will be no competition for a sole supplier who can now charge pretty much what he likes. After all, why sell a badged blazer for £30 when parents have to buy from him? He might as well charge £50. I think this is tantamount to bribery causing a monopoly situation. There are laws about both monopolies and bribery... Some schools act themselves as expensive sole suppliers selling their own uniform at high prices. I can see why schools would need to have a small mark-up, but profiting from the parents in this way cannot really be on.

    So what can parents do if they're faced with expensive uniform? As the school may be doing 'very nicely, thank you' out of the current arrangement you may need to apply a little pressure!

    1). A second supplier, one who's not working in cahoots with the first one, could be sought. You may or may not be able to find one willing to take on a share of the supply when he knows there's an existing supplier who would now reduce prices (he probably won't be paying a kickback any more) and compete vigorously.

    2). Agree with the school that any old red / whatever sweatshirt can be worn and supply an iron on badge for parents to attach. But the school will look a bit naff to be honest. And the quality of some supermarket sweatshirts may or may not be up to much. Anyone seen ASDA's 100 day uniform guarantee? That's 1 term! Decent uniform could last a couple of years.

    3). My preferred option would be for the school / PTA or a group of parents to take on the supply - hopefully on a not-for-profit basis. There are suppliers out there who will help, even some of the same ones who supply school uniform shops! I've been there and done this - it's quite rewarding to see your child's school all wearing smart, non fading, uniform and remembering what a motley bunch they once were. Even simply organising an annual / twice annual / termly batch of embroidered sweatshirts / whatever to sell cheaply to parents would be a start.

    At the end of the day, you'll need to apply a bit of parent power I'm sure, but it'll be worth it. The school uniform shop's mark-up is likely to be around 100% or more, so plenty of scope to get prices down. The Chairman of Governors could be the best one to talk to because they're in charge of the school's uniform policy.

    If you need a final bit or persuasion, parents who are told to buy from one shop may spend - let's say - £20 per year and per child extra on uniform. Not much, maybe, but multiply this by the number of children in the school and we're probably talking of saving the parent group as a whole far in excess of £10,000 each and every year, depending of course on the size of the school.

    I second the call for a campaign. I think some of the current practices stink.
  • JumtyJumty Forumite
    16 Posts
    Technobadger you make some excellent points. Can I make some?

    1) It is obvious that having a high street shop, open all year round, is commercially daft. Why should parents subsidise stupid shop owners?

    2) There's a difference between your mark-up and your profit. The specialist suppliers are barely making a profit at the moment. Two biggish on line suppliers (Schoolwear For Less and Your School Uniform) closed and reopened under new ownership only recently. The retailers with a high street presence are in an even more precarious situation. How do the schools turn big profits if the suppliers themselves aren't?

    3) What's the point of having a sweatshirt that lasts two years if children outgrow them in a few months? A lot of uniform suppliers use the cheapest garments they can get their hands on to bolster their margins.
  • edited 2 September 2011 at 3:10PM
    TechnoBadgerTechnoBadger Forumite
    153 Posts
    edited 2 September 2011 at 3:10PM
    Hi Jumty,

    You write: 1) It is obvious that having a high street shop, open all year round, is commercially daft. Why should parents subsidise stupid shop owners?

    Exactly my point. Schools have the infrastructure to sell things to parents themselves, and some do. It's likely that many won't have the time to put into this but surely a PTA could help? Yes, they'd need to help the parents for once instead of the school but otherwise why not? If a school wants to sell tea towels, mugs whatever they don't do deals with local shops. Sales are run through the school fund or the PTA's accounts. Batches of school sweatshirts should be sold in the same way - it needn't be some kind of black art.

    2) There's a difference between your mark-up and your profit.

    There's something wrong if a shop can't turn a profit with a 100% mark-up. There's clearly the opportunity for parents / a school / a PTA to organise (probably better) uniform at nearly half the current price.

    The specialist suppliers are barely making a profit at the moment. Two biggish on line suppliers (Schoolwear For Less and Your School Uniform) closed and reopened under new ownership only recently. The retailers with a high street presence are in an even more precarious situation. How do the schools turn big profits if the suppliers themselves aren't?

    Yes, I had noticed the demise of Schoolwear for Less. Trutex and Banner are two bigger names that have been bought out in the last couple of years, too. Schools get various amounts from their 'sole supplier' - maybe 10% of sales, maybe computers / PE equiptment etc. And perhaps the odd raffle prize for the PTA to keep them sweet too. Without the 'sole supply' that they obtain from these gifts they would be out of business, and Schoolwear for Less may well have benefited.

    3) What's the point of having a sweatshirt that lasts two years if children outgrow them in a few months? A lot of uniform suppliers use the cheapest garments they can get their hands on to bolster their margins.

    Primary school uniform is generally sized 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 etc. There isn't enough variation to pick another size after a few months! Decent quality uniform can be passed down to siblings, sold on by PTAs to those who can't afford brand new uniform etc.

    Good sweatshirts - and I'm thinking of UK made ones here - aren't really too expensive, maybe around £4 trade from the right supplier. There are budget ranges around, like the imported Woodbank, which in my experience are of poorer quality and fade badly. But isn't selling these good for school uniform shops - the sweatshirt looks shoddy after a few months, mum has to go and buy another one, and may pick up a pair of trousers whilst she's there? A sale of one inferior sweatshirt has become a sale of two sweatshirts plus a pair of trousers. But the opposite applies when you're providing uniform on a not-for-profit basis for fellow parents as a PTA might. The last thing you'd want then are mums continually coming back for replacements; so it's best to sell something that's properly made, doesn't fade and lasts. A better experience all round.
  • popadompopadom Forumite
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    I dont see why the shops dont just put it all online. It would save alot of money on rent,wages, ect. Which should, in theory, bring the price down. For those who dont have the internet, the school could set aside one room and allow someone to run a "shop" almost in the school, or allow them to come in once a month and give the school x % of sales. Just an idea :)
  • That was how it worked at my daughter's school. The prices were higher than they are now at the independent suppliers! Thats why I challenged it as they didnt have rent or overheads to pay so didnt need to charge such high prices. Never have got to the bottom of where all the profits went to other than "school equipment" which is effectively saying parents have to make a non voluntary contribution.
  • edited 3 September 2011 at 12:29AM
    TechnoBadgerTechnoBadger Forumite
    153 Posts
    edited 3 September 2011 at 12:29AM
    ...the school could set aside one room and allow someone to run a "shop" almost in the school, or allow them to come in once a month and give the school x % of sales.

    But that's where the problem can lie as smileyhappy has pointed out. Schools can get a bit greedy forgetting, hopefully, that they're tapping their parents.

    Never have got to the bottom of where all the profits went to other than "school equipment" which is effectively saying parents have to make a non voluntary contribution.

    And that's totally unfair to the parents. If a supplier's happy to sell at a reasonable price, spends a lot of time and effort sourcing the stuff, carting it to school and selling on the school's behalf why should he have to actually charge parents (much) higher prices in order give funds to the school? No way should money change hands (it came from parents' pockets), and if part of any deal is that there's exclusivity of supply then that's bribery, no? Businesses such as bookclubs should hand over commission - parents aren't forced to buy particular books - but please, schools, stop extracting money from your compulsory uniform supply chain.

    There are guidelines that schools should have more than one uniform supplier but there are occasions when one reliable supplier selling quality clothes at reasonable prices should not be discouraged / undermined. Or a PTA / school / group of parents filling this role themselves. Uniform supply can be a bit of a logistical nightmare and if there are two suppliers, neither knowing how many parents will buy from them in the week before the new school year starts, who is responsible if stocks run out?!
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