School uniforms should be affordable for all

Councillor Scott Arthur writes about his efforts to ensure every child in Edinburgh is equipped to to reach their full potential at school.


I joined the Labour Party just under three years ago. When I first joined there were many aspects of the party’s culture that I had to learn and respect. One thing I noted quickly was that speakers at Labour events like to start their speeches with tales of their own humble upbringing, and end by saying how pooling and sharing resources can make a difference. This blog is no different.

I grew up in a single parent household in one of the most deprived areas of the UK – a council estate in Kirkcaldy during the 1980s miner’s strike. My route out of that was to work hard at school and go on to complete a degree and eventually a PhD.

I was lucky as my family understood the difference education could make to my life chances. This was not because they were well educated themselves, but because they had ability but were not given the same opportunity in the 1940s and 1950s. Days off school were not permitted unless a death certificate could be provided, and I was one of only two people from a huge housing scheme (Smeaton) to “stay on” at school for 5th and 6th year.

Above all else, a school uniform had to be worn.

The school uniform was not an easy thing for my father to provide for me and my two brothers. He had to rely on two aunts and my gran to help ensure I had one – particularly big ticket items like shoes and a jacket, which often came via the Littlewoods catalogue. I don’t remember having my clothes bought by a committee being a particularly enjoyable experience, but the ends justified the means.

I had largely forgotten about this experience until the school year started again in August 2017. At that point, the BBC ran a story on the support available to low-income families to help them equip their children for school. It outlined how the “School Uniform Grant” varies from £40 (North Ayrshire) to £110 (West Lothian) in Scotland, and how the Poverty Truth Commission estimates the actual cost to be £129.50 “even when shopping at supermarkets and bargain stores”.  The story The Poverty Truth Commission told about life in Scotland today was exactly what I had experienced 30 years ago:

Very often, school clothing grants simply aren’t enough to cover even the most basic uniform – leaving families stressed out, anxious and wondering just where the money is going to come from. Some even end up in debt or struggling to afford other basic essentials like food and heating.

It made me feel ashamed to know this was still happening in Scotland. Worse than that, I was ashamed because the City of Edinburgh Council offers one of the lowest grants. The grant in Scotland’s capital is only £43 and £50 for primary and secondary school children respectively. Pretty much as soon as I read the BBC report, I donated £129.50 to the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank.

Why does this matter? It is now an accepted fact that child poverty is rising in the UK. But we also must accept that Edinburgh Council, the Scottish Government and the UK Government have a duty to use their powers to reverse this trend. In my view a key part of that is ensuring children are equipped to attend school as, I believe, education is key to breaking the kind of poverty which is handed down from generation to generation. With all that in mind, I am delighted to say I have the following motion to review Edinburgh’s School Uniform Grant coming before the Education, Children and Families Committee on Tuesday (10th of October):

Motion by Councillor Arthur – Child Poverty – School Uniform Grant


Recognises that child poverty is rising in Edinburgh and that the City of Edinburgh Council, the Scottish Government and the UK Government have a duty to use their powers to reverse this trend.

Recognises that a significant burden on low income families is providing their children with a school uniform.

Recognises the significant work of the Edinburgh School Uniform Bank, Edinburgh Police Fund for Children, and others to help equip children from low income families for school.

Recognises the Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland estimate that the cost of a school uniform is £129.50, but the School Uniform Grant provided by City of Edinburgh Council is only £43 and £50 for primary and secondary school children respectively.

Recognises that the Scottish Government recommends the School Uniform Grant level be set at £70, but many Local Authorities exceed this.

Asks that within two cycles (four months) Council Officers report on the feasibility of increasing the School Uniform Grant to ensure that from the 2018/19 academic year children from low income households are better equipped for school.

The motion has support within the Labour and SNP groups of cuncillors, not least from Councillor Alison Dickie, so I am hopeful that it will be approved and we can take a small step towards ensuring Edinburgh’s children can reach their full potential.

Last week at an event in East Lothian on the Cost of the School Day project I listened with great pride to all the work City of Edinburgh Council is doing to ensure finance is not a barrier to education, but I was also ashamed to hear how that lack of a clean uniform that fits can be a barrier to kids reaching their full potential (via an inspiring presentation by Pattie Santelices, Strategic Development Officer for Health & Wellbeing). Next to me a West Lothian Councillor whispered that her council had the highest School Uniform Grant in Scotland.  I smiled and said I wanted Edinburgh to be the first to meet The Poverty Truth Commission’s target of £129.50.

In these financially constrained times it may not be easy to find the £129.50 for every child that needs it. That’s why we also have to continue to work with third sector partners, just like Manchester did, to ensure every child in Edinburgh is fully equipped to reach their full potential at school.

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17 thoughts on “School uniforms should be affordable for all

  1. How about not forcing parents to buy School uniforms at all? For many it is a relatively huge and unnecessary expense. As usual “Socialist” Labour has its finger on the pulse of Capitalism preferring it to best serving the needs of the Community.

    1. So why hasn’t the SNP, your preferred party and the party which has been in government for over a decade, got rid of school uniforms? And given that they haven’t, can you point me to where you have criticised them for that failing in the same terms you criticise Labour? The SNP prefer capitalism to best serving the needs of the community, etc.

      Thought not.

      1. Isnt that a local authority responsibility Duncan? How very Labour in Scotland to keep trying to put the failings of local Government onto the Scottish Government.

        1. The SNP have run lots of local authorities for several years too, Mike. How very you to avoid addressing the issue.

          1. Actually, the SNP have been in power in Edinburgh for the last six years. So that kind of makes Mike’s response incomprehensible… usual

          2. No they haven’t the most they’ve ever ran at one time outright is 2. Labour has the record of local power in Scotland Duncan.

      2. Of course I don’t see the SNP hypocritically trying to make political porridge out of School uniforms.
        How affordable are School uniforms in Wales? Are they cheaper than anywhere else in the UK? Are they affordable to everybody in Wales?

        1. What’s that? “Look over there!”? You’re nothing if not sadly predictable, Mike.

    2. I have raised 5 children. two attended a school with a casual uniform code and three had a more formal uniform system.
      The purpose of uniforms is two fold. It gives pupils an identity with others from the same school and can encourage a sense of pride. It cuts out the difference between have and have nots. My two children who went to the school favouring a less strict dress code ere bullied for not having the latest trainers etc etc. The difference between pupils from a working background and less solvent one was stark. with the strict uniforms everyone was the same.

      1. What use is a perceived “sense of pride” if the uniform cost forces lower paid or disadvantaged families into an even worse financial position. it may cut out the differences in how everyone looks, but that certainly does not fill a belly or heat a home.

        Why continue with a system that continues to disadvantage the worse off. Most parents will break themselves to give there kids the same as other kids, WHY should we put them in such a position ?

        Change the system, make its purpose achievable for all.

        I am not saying a type of school uniform is wrong, but to continue to “force” families into financial difficulties to maintain the present system is wrong.

  2. There are dozens and dozens of utter bozo’s in the House of Lords, from Scotland, who’s annual tax-free expenses/allowances are quite ridiculous, for doing zilch in ermine (sounds like a deviance, doesn’t it? ).
    If we told them all to “get on yer bike”, then pooled all this wasted money, we could probably afford free school uniforms for all.

    Oh, but Labour LIKES the Upper House, does it not?

  3. While I applaud the idea of every child having the same opportunity and the same status as every other child at their school, I am not convinced about the need for a school uniform.

    Back in the 70’s I attended a secondary for 2 years then an academy for 2 years, the secondary never had a uniform and while the academy did, it was never compulsory and very few pupils wore one. I can not see what difference a compulsory uniform would have made apart from make poorer family’s even more worse off.

    My son’s school has a type of uniform or should it be called more of a “standard of colour” for the students, ie dark blue tops S1 & S2’s and black tops S3 & S4’s, plus dark trousers/skirts and white shirts/tee-shirts for all. My wife did order a couple of the school logoed sweatshirts from the school and while I can afford them ok, I still swore when I saw the price, and I have only one “kid/teenager/demon from hell”, what about those parents who have 2 – 3 – 4 – ?.

    My main point is are we focusing on the wrong thing with school uniforms, is a school uniform actually going to make a child from a disadvantaged background learn better or would a warm winter jacket and a pair of decent shoes that don’t fall apart after two weeks be more of a help.
    Would a clothing grant for the disadvantaged and the low paid working family’s to get decent hard wearing clothing for their kids that would cover the whole academic year be of more use than a school uniform.

    I like the “standard of colour” my son’s school use’s as a type of uniform, it reduces the finance drag on many family’s without making their kids standout from the better-off and does give a neat look to the whole student body.

    Uniforms ??? , decent hardwearing clothing for the year , perhaps a better and more sensible idea.

    PS, sorry about the shoes son, I should have listened to your mum.

  4. Perhaps a common uniform throughout the school system might bring the costs down.
    They could differentiate schools by the breast pocket patch.

  5. At primary school although I don’t think it was compulsory in the 60s me and my brothers wore the school uniform.
    At secondary it was not compulsory and no one wore it to dear.
    The school for pupils In 3rd year used to organize visits to factories etc .
    I never got to go for some reason never explained the school stopped the visits because no one was wore a school uniform
    We did not have them
    The only pupils who did were prefects

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