Blog: Leonie BarrieSchool uniform investigation

Leonie Barrie | 7 July 2006

Worth GBP450m a year, there’s a lot at stake in the UK school uniform industry. What’s surprising, though, is that it’s being investigated by the government’s competition regulator, the OFT, after complaints from parents over the quality and price of the uniforms they’re being forced to buy. Yes, “forced.” Most school pupils in the UK have to wear school uniforms, but when it comes to buying them, parents are limited in choice. Many schools now specify where the uniform is to be bought from – and more often than not these are expensive specialist shops and not supermarkets like Asda and Tesco where the cheapest options can be found. Retailers, too, fear these “restrictive practices” are barring from this lucrative market.

The OFT wants to know whether the practice is pushing up the prices parents pay. I certainly think the estimated average cost of a uniform and PE kit (about £280 a year for a secondary school pupil and £170 for a primary school pupil) seems a bit steep, particularly when you can pick up polo shirts for under GBP1 and trousers and skirts for less than GBP2 at the supermarkets.

Just two years ago the government was telling schools how important it was to keep costs down and allow parents to shop around for the cheapest deals – and surely it’s only fair that schools, parents, retailers and, most importantly, pupils get the best deals around.



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