Monday, 3 August 2009

All in all it’s just another crick in the wall(et)

Citizens Advice concerned over rising school costs.

The school holidays are now under way and national charity Citizens Advice is warning there is an even bigger worry for parents this summer than how to keep their kids occupied for six weeks - the escalating costs of sending them back to school in September. Today it publishes new top tips to help parents in this situation.

Despite the current supermarket price wars on uniform, CAB evidence shows many parents are struggling because their childrens’ schools insist on expensive uniform only available from exclusive stockists, rather than letting parents purchase competitively priced generic items from the high street. On top of this parents can face numerous additional costs such as specialist equipment, school trips and ‘contributions’.

A survey at the start of 2009 by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) echoed CAB evidence and showed that 65% of families on the lowest incomes said they were struggling to meet school costs.

David Harker, Chief Executive at Citizens Advice said:

“With this being the first back to school season since the start of the recession, now, more than ever, parents need assurance that school costs won’t be a huge financial burden. Four years after an initial government study into school costs, very little progress has been made.

“There is now Government guidance called the Schools Admissions Code which states that costs should be kept to a minimum but it’s meaningless unless schools follow it. The Government must also ensure it is better enforced.”

In the past parents who were struggling could apply to their local council for a school uniform grant - the 1996 Education Act requires Councils to consider helping families who need help meeting the costs of school uniforms to ensure that their children are not disadvantaged. Yet, Citizens Advice research from 2007 revealed that 57% of local authorities do not offer school uniform grants.

In December 2008, Rossendale CAB, with the help of solicitors from the Public Law Project, supported local Mum of two, Julie Walker, to challenge Lancashire Council’s withdrawal of the discretionary school uniform grant. They were successful and the grant was re-introduced.

David Harker continued:

"This successful challenge to Lancashire County Council on their refusal to offer school uniform grants could result in parents across the country challenging their local authorities to do the same."

As part of its ongoing Adding up campaign on schools costs, Citizens Advice has produced some new Top Tips for parents who feel they are struggling to afford the costs involved in equipping their children for school and that their children’s education is being compromised as a result.

Top tips for parents who are struggling with school costs

1) If you feel your child’s school isn’t doing enough to keep costs down, raise the issue with the school management team. Draw their attention to the Schools Admissions Code, and keep copies of all correspondence.

2) If you’re not happy with the response, approach the school’s Governing body. They should have a complaints procedure in place which will deal with issues such as complaints about uniform policies.

3) You can also raise the issue with the Schools Admissions Forum in your area. Your local authority should be able to give you details.

4) If your school has an exclusive contract with a uniform supplier which prevents you from buying ‘off the peg’ items at a cheaper rate, ask them to review this.

5) If they refuse to change this policy then they may be subject to enforcement action by the Office of Fair Trading:

6) If you are concerned that excessive school costs are affecting your decision to send your child to a particular school then you can object to the Schools Adjudicator:

7) Suggestions you can make to your child’s school for how to keep costs fair and low could include:

  • Making sure uniform is available from a range of outlets
  • Providing sew-on or iron-on badges that can be put on plain clothing
  • Encourage second hand uniform sales or swap schemes
  • Providing budgets for the year in September so parents can plan ahead
  • Being transparent about which contributions are voluntary

8) If you are really struggling with buying school uniform or PE kit for your child/ren, apply to your local authority for a School Uniform Grant.

9) If you have difficulties with any of the above steps your local Citizens Advice Bureau can help. Many bureaux are already trying to influence the work of local Schools Admissions Forums as part of our Adding Up campaign.

10) For more information visit:

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