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Islington Tribune - by PETER GRUNER
Published: 7 August 2009

Jackie Barnett, son Matthew, 14, and Emily, 11
£100 school uniforms a ‘nightmare’

Replace costly, out-of-date blazers with sweatshirts, urges MP

MP Jeremy Corbyn enraged educational traditionalists this week by declaring that school uniforms were too costly and “out of date” – and should be replaced with cheaper sweatshirts.
The Islington North Labour MP spoke out as parents complained about the “staggering” costs of school uniforms – up to £50 for a blazer and badge – for pupils moving into secondary education. Some parents are having to pay out more than £100.
Mr Corbyn, whose son attended a non-uniform school, Acland Burghley, in Tufnell Park, argued that a sweatshirt with the school badge was perfectly acceptable.
He said: “Schools can decide a uniform policy, but I think they should be well aware that expensive and complicated uniforms are a nightmare for families who are not eligible for uniform grants.
“I would urge schools to have much more cost-effective and easy-to-clean sweatshirts, which are within the reach of everyone. Expensive blazers seem to me rather unnecessary and out of date.”
The row broke out after Islington town hall Unison official Andrew Berry complained at the £36 cost of a Highbury Groave school blazer, complete with new purple lining, for his daughter, due to move to the school in September.
The blazer was £12 more expensive than one Mr Berry purchased for an older daughter, who joined Highbury Grove two years ago.
“The school seems oblivious to the recession,” said Mr Berry. “The blazer can only be purchased at one shop in Chapel Market, which pushes the price up.
“It means you can’t buy an off-the-peg blazer from Asda or Marks and Spencer, which would only cost about a third of the new price.”
Mr Berry said he also got a letter from Highbury Grove at the end of last term stating a tracksuit with the school logo was now compulsory. It now costs about £25, more than twice the previous figure.
He added: “Schools claim you get grants for uniform but it’s only for those on very low income. I’m only being offered a pay award this year of one per cent, yet the cost of the uniform with the changes is going up about 50 per cent.”
Mr Berry believes schools may be ignoring the Government’s Competitions Commission, which ruled in 2006 that uniforms should be available from a wide range of shops rather than a single outlet.
Former Islington Council Labour leader Derek Sawyer, who has a son at secondary school, called for an inquiry into the cost of uniforms locally. “We need to get together with the schools and discuss how to help people who can’t afford the uniforms,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Chapel Market this week parents were having to fork out more than £100 for uniforms at a specialist shop.
One mother, Charity Amante, said her son Edmund is about to join Central Foundation School in the City. She paid £91 in total, including £38 for a blazer and two jumpers at £18 each. Other items included shorts, top, socks and PE kit.
Mrs Amante, who lives off Essex Road, said: “I was shocked at the price but I wanted my son to have the best.”
Antonia Fad paid out more than £100 for her son’s uniform for St Aloysius’ College, in Archway. “The blazer alone was £46,” she said. “But I don’t mind because I believe that uniforms are good for the child and good for school discipline.”
Jackie Barnett, whose son attends St Mary Magdalene Academy, in Holloway, spent £150 on his uniform last year. “The trouble is he has grown in a year and I now have to spend another £150 kitting him out again,” she added.
Adrian Berrill-Cox, Islington North Conservative parliamentary candidate, said he thought uniforms were a good thing. “They engender a common identity, discipline and are good for team working,” he added. “But we are not living in the 19th century and young people shouldn’t walk around in tailcoats and boaters.”
Lib Dem schools chief Councillor Paula Belford said: “It’s up to the governing body of each school to decide on uniform policy or dress code for pupils.
“Some schools have blazers that are only available from a specific supplier, but schools can help limit the expense of uniforms by choosing a colour scheme, so basic items can be purchased from high street shops.
“This year, Islington Council began providing secondary school uniform grants for Year 7 pupils of £150 per child for families on a low income. This can make a real difference to helping families with the costs and anyone who thinks they might be eligible for the grant can check with the council’s free school meals team.”

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Your comments:

HOW parents can be expected to pay £50 for a blazer whan a perfectly adequate one is £10 in ASDA is beyond me. Schools should be compelled to provide copies of their badges, one per year free for each pupil, so that they can be sewn onto a cheap blazer pocket. The situation described, where bespoke blazers are provided by just one shop, leaves the way open for corrupt practices.
C. Langford

THE reason why Highbury Grove changed their uniform, as far as I understand it, is because the pupils wanted the change. The school is rightly proud that the pupils had taken an interest in choosing a blazer that looked smart and reflected similar values to the schools where middle class parents send their children. I would argue that making your child go to school in a £10 cheap blazer from Asda, when they would prefer to look smart, suggests the parents don't appreciate the deeper reasons behind their choice. This is especially true for schools like Highbury Grove which needs all the support it can get as it steadily improves. At the moment pupils are embarassed by the school's reputation and feel bad about themselves for attending a school that other children say is 'bad'. We as parents need to reinforce the view that HG is on the up and that the new uniform and new school building show that we are doing all we can to change this perception. Children deserve to feel proud of their school as this will help them become proud of themselves. It's bad enough that there is such a social divide in education, we should support efforts to minimise the effect on our children.
E. Brizzolara


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