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School uniforms research: summary report
Background
The school uniform market in the UK is estimated to be worth around
£450million per year.
1
The OFT's remit covers the UK so the research includes
information from schools in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
There is no legislation that deals specifically with school uniforms, which are a
matter for individual schools. A school's uniform policy is generally the
responsibility of its board of governors
2
but is subject to guidance from
education authorities:
Department for Education and Skills (DfES) guidance on school uniforms
applies only to state schools in England. Schools in England are currently free
to appoint a manufacturer to produce school wear for them to sell direct to
parents; appoint retailers to source and sell school wear; or inform parents of
the general requirements of a uniform which they may purchase anywhere.
Welsh Assembly guidelines for school uniform policies are similar to DfES
guidance.
In 2001 the Scottish Executive issued a report 'Better behaviour – better
learning' in which schools were encouraged to adopt dress codes. The
Scottish system does not provide any written guidance on what constitutes
'uniform' or on issues affecting the cost to parents.
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education has in the past recognised
concerns of parents and others in relation to uniforms. It suggested that
boards of governors may wish to consider the cost implications of uniforms
for parents on low incomes and the implications, in terms of value for money
and consumer choice, of agreements with suppliers.
The OFT has received complaints from parents regarding lack of choice and high
prices / poor quality when schools restrict the supply of uniform to particular
retailers through exclusive contracts, as well as from other retailers claiming that
these arrangements foreclose the market to them. Self-supply of uniforms by
schools has provoked similar complaints.
These complaints do not lend themselves to enforcement action by the OFT
(under the Competition Act 1998). A retailer's ability to exercise market power
is constrained by a school's duty to give high priority to cost considerations and
ultimately by parents' ability to complain to the school's board of governors and
influence change in policy. Moreover actions to address problems in any
particular local markets would be unlikely to be effective in establishing a general
deterrent and the OFT must take account of competing claims in deciding on
areas of work on which to devote its resources.
1
Source: Mintel – School-wear Shopping habits, November 2004.
2
School Boards in Scotland; replaced by Parent Forums and Parent Councils in the
Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Act which received Royal Assent on 14 June
2006.
1
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