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Primary Education News
News Schools forced to end single-supplier contracts in bid to cut cost of uniform
Brirtish families could save £52m with end to overpriced clothes, Lib Dem education minister tells party conference. Meanwhile, leader Nick Clegg says party has stood up to Tories on jobs
The government will crack down on schools that force parents to buy overpriced uniforms.
David Laws, the education minister, said he would provide new guidance to urge schools to end the practice of using a single uniform supplier, which stops parents from shopping around to find the best deal.
He announced the policy at the Liberal Democrats' annual conference in Glasgow after research showed that parents were losing out by around £52m a year.
Laws said: "We will send a strong signal to schools that it is vital to secure value for money for parents before changing or introducing new school uniforms. Parents need to be able to shop around to find the best deal. I want to see fewer schools using single suppliers and branded items, which keep costs unnecessarily high."
The announcement follows a concerted Labour party campaign to put the issue of overpriced school uniforms on the government's agenda.
At prime minister's questions two weeks ago, shadow minister Kevin Brennan revealed that the cost of uniforms had spiralled to £285 this year. He was shot down by the prime minister, who insisted it was right that headteachers could enforce "a tough and robust" uniform policy despite the costs.
Education secretary Michael Gove has been a major driver in encouraging schools to force their students to wear uniforms. He was criticised last week after he suggested people attending food banks were responsible for their own predicaments. His comments were made in response to claims that the food banks were now distributing uniforms to the poorest parents.
However, Laws indicated a growing recognition within the Liberal Democrat side of the government of the financial pressure the reintroduction of uniforms in schools was applying on many parents.
Laws's new guidance, to be issued by the Department for Education on Monday, will ask governing bodies to avoid exclusive single-supplier contracts and not insist that pupils wear expensive items of uniform.
It will also encourage schools not to make frequent changes to uniform specifications but to select items that can be purchased cheaply, for example in a supermarket.
An Office of Fair Trading investigation in 2012 found three-quarters of schools placed restrictions on where uniforms could be bought. At a typical price difference of £5 between an item bought from a single supplier and a supermarket, the report suggested that parents of school age children lose out on a total of £52m each year.
The Lib Dem conference also heard the party's leader, Nick Clegg, launch a broadside on its Conservative coalition partners. The deputy prime minister attacked proposals in a report by venture capitalist and Tory donor Adrian Beecroft, commissioned by Downing Street last year, which would have allowed employers to sack staff without reason or fear of financial penalty.
Clegg told his members: "The Conservatives have a bizarre idea that to create more jobs you need to increase insecurity. They aren't the party of jobs.
"They are the party of fire-at-will. Remember that? A proposal for bosses to get rid of staff, no questions asked. A policy dreamed up by a Conservative donor without a shred of evidence to back it up. So we said no.
"But let's be in no doubt that without us taking a stand in government it would have happened. Without us, job security would have been a thing of the past, with employers able to get rid of staff on a whim."
Clegg also acknowledged the leftwing political sympathies held by some in his party, but attacked Labour's track record on the economy. He said : "Now I know that some people in our party don't like us being too nasty to Labour, so in the spirit of cross-party co-operation, I'm going to help them make a start.
"If the Eds are watching, here is the first thing they should do to win back the trust of people: apologise.
"Apologise for being too busy schmoozing the bankers to worry about the risks they were taking with the economy. Apologise for not balancing the books in the good times. Apologise for abolishing the 10p tax rate."
Clegg faces a confrontation with the left of his party on Monday over an economic motion backing the government's position. He will speak in favour of the motion during its debate, an almost unprecedented step in the party's history.
Clegg allies say those seeking to amend the motion from the left of the party want to "tear up" the government's fiscal mandate and end the Bank of England's independence by ordering it to do more to create jobs.
A source close to Clegg said he was not worried about losing a vote on the motion, although others in the party believe it is a high-risk tactic.