School uniform costs could fall by €200 under parent-power move
PARENTS could save up to €200 in school uniform costs from next September if they vote for a widespread switch to shopping in chainstores for jumpers and other clothing.
Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is asking the 4,000 primary and post-primary schools to ballot parents on the uniform issue in coming months, in a move aimed at reducing costs.
It will be up to parents in each school to arrive at their own decision and Mr Quinn wants any change they support implemented for next September.
In the case of a jumper, it could mean the difference between paying at least €45 for a crested version from a named shop instead of €12 in a chainstore.
But when all uniform items for all school-going children in a family are included, it would translate into significant savings for struggling households.
A recent survey by Barnardos found that the cost of clothing a child for the new school year ranges from €95 for a senior infant, rising to a hefty €275 for a first year at second level.
Barnardos found 74pc of parents with children in primary schools said they required uniforms with the school crest on them, and this rose to an overwhelming 97pc at second level.
It found that school-specific tracksuits start from around €35, jumpers can cost €40-60 while coats and blazers cost more than €100.
But savings in buying generic school uniform items can be considerable – as supermarkets and high street stores have been engaged in a price war over the past few years.
Dunnes Stores and Tesco have offered polo shirts for as little as €3.50 around the start of the school year.
Last year Aldi offered a bargain for parents of primary school children – skirts and trousers for €2 each, a two-pack of polo shirts for €1.25 and sweatshirts for €1.75.
And even high street chains can be cheaper than the expensive crested versions, with blazers from about €25 in shops like Marks & Spencer and Debenhams.
It means that parents who have a child at primary and another at second level could be looking at hundreds of euro in annual savings if they vote in favour of change.
The Department of Education will issue a template questionnaire to schools later this month in which the first question will ask parents whether they want a uniform for their children.
Most already have a uniform – generally a decision taken in consultation with parents – so there is unlikely to be any change in the overall situation.
But remaining questions in the survey are likely to stimulate much discussion and debate among parents.
If they support having a uniform, parents will vote whether:
* They want trousers, jumpers, blouses, shirts and skirts in colours/shades available in the large retail chains.
* They want a school blazer.
* They want a school crest on garments and what type.
Many parents are concerned about the lack of choice over where they can buy uniform items and the insistence in some schools to award the contract to one supplier
Some schools force parents to buy, for instance, a crested navy jumper in a particular store, rather than giving them the option to buy a similar jumper cheaper in a chainstore and attaching the crest themselves if necessary.
Announcing the school ballots, Mr Quinn said he believed that empowering parents to determine school uniform policy was the most effective way to tackle back-to-school costs.
"Balloting all parents should ensure that a school fully captures the views of its parent body," he said.
Significantly, he was accompanied by Tanaiste and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore for the announcement, in a sign of the importance the party attaches to sending a message on this issue to voters.
The move has already met with approval from one parent of a primary school student, who said: "It makes a large amount of sense."
Shane Kelly said that he would be in favour of a generic school uniform which could be purchased in any store, and that the school crest should be made available to be either sewn or ironed on to the school jumpers.
"A uniform really should be a generic uniform where people can get it at an affordable price. The idea that uniforms have to have expensive crests that you can only get in one particular shop – it's an absolutely unnecessary cost to be inflicting upon parents.
"I think it makes a huge amount of sense to consult with parents about how schools are going to be managed, but particularly about the issue of school uniforms," the father of three said.
"I like the fact that children can be individual, but it's not practical. I can see the practicality of having a uniform for children, for all sorts of reasons. It takes away competitiveness for brands. It does equalise everybody," he added.