Back-to-School Costs Overwhelm Some Parents’ Finances, Does It Really Need To Be So Expensive?

The new school year is looming and you’ve just realised that your child has had another seemingly over-night growth spurt, prompting you to shell out more of your savings on a school uniform.

This may seem like an exaggerated circumstance, but recent research from Nationwide has discovered the average cost for a parent sending their child back to school is a massive £186 per child. From this, Nationwide has estimated a total amount of 1.56 billion being spent by parents collectively across the UK ahead of the new school term in September.

Of course, this figure isn’t just based on school uniforms, it also covers the cost of necessities like school materials, sports equipment, jackets and technology. However, school uniform is seen to be the most expensive on the list at an average cost of £31.29 per child (not including school shoes), and for those with multiple children, going back to school can prove to be a real strain on their finances.

The survey questioned a total of 1,736 parents and found that 3 in 5 were concerned about the costs of their children going back to school and more than 1 in 10 had their own parents helping cover the expenses. These revelations provide a worrying insight into the many challenges that low income families face across the UK before their children start school.

For some, there are ways of avoiding high costs as they prepare their children for school. Many supermarkets offer competitive pricing on school uniform and stationary which can provide a cheaper option for parents, and while local councils no longer support those struggling, some schools may offer help. This issue has also prompted some areas of the UK to create school clothing banks in order to support low income parents.

While the cheap supermarket option works for some, many parents are left to tackle strict school uniform codes which don’t allow them any flexibility as to where they shop for school uniforms. Recently, a school in Chester-le-Street hit the news as it enforced a new school uniform policy that meant parents could only buy the uniform from one shop and it would cost them £42 per child, a huge increase from the national average of £31.29. The school defended its controversial decision by stating the uniform change would prevent pupils from making ‘fashion-statements’, although many parents are concerned by the new costs, especially if they have multiple children.

It’s situations like these that begs the question; do we even need school uniforms? Traditional blazers and ties may seem like a staple of British schools but in reality it’s looking increasingly old fashioned. Many European countries like Germany, Norway, Finland and Denmark to name a few, have very successful education systems and very few schools that use uniform. There seems to be this idea in the UK that school uniforms actually have an impact on behaviour and academic success, when there isn’t a whole lot of proof this is actually true.

Of course, there are benefits of the school uniform. In some respects it neutralises the clothing and makes everyone equal in the way they dress, preventing bullying if one child can’t afford ‘nice’ clothes or a constant change of outfit. It can help protect those children who might stand out and attract the wrong attention.

However, this neutralising also prevents individualism and character development that many young people want to show through their style. It stops children from expressing themselves and can almost be considered oppressive. It’s also worth considering that school uniform isn’t quite as neutral as it wants to be, mainly because there will always be a kid in hand-me-down or ill-fitting clothing as parents struggle to afford new uniform. The pressure of back-to-school costs would certainly be lessened if there wasn’t a strict school uniform code to adhere to.

At the end of the day, the likeliness that school uniforms will be completely abolished is a distant thought, but actions to make school uniforms more affordable should be taken now. It shouldn’t be left to local charities to help low income families with the costs of sending children back to school, there needs to be government help and local council funding on a larger scale to provide support. Only then will all children have equal opportunities and equipment when going back to school.