SCHOOLS have been told to scrap expensive items of school uniform such as blazers with coloured trim or polo shirts with logos to create equality for pupils from poorer backgrounds.
Headteachers have also been told to stop sending pupils home if they have missing or dirty school uniform following a wide-ranging inquiry into the impact of poverty on education.
The recommendations come in a report by the Scottish Parliament’s education committee, which has held an inquiry into the issue.
The committee heard evidence that some families were unable to afford the correct school uniform or to regularly keep it clean.
Over the past decade there has been a resurgence of school uniform in the state sector with many adopting expensive policies of the private sector such as the introduction of formal blazers.
The committee also highlighted concerns about digital exclusion, with greater use of technology in schools, as well as evidence some pupils struggled to afford materials to take part in classes such as home economics, PE and art and design.
The report said: “The committee considers that excessively expensive or unnecessary pieces of school uniform should not be required. Reducing the complexity of school uniforms would reduce the cost burden of education on families.
“The committee also recommends that education authorities should consider carefully the evidence … of children who cannot afford to purchase or maintain school uniforms being sent home or chastised for their appearance.
“The committee hopes this is a limited issue, but considers that no pupil should be denied access to education due to the inability to afford school uniform.”
The committee went on to welcome a recent announcement by the Scottish Government and councils of a minimum school clothing allowance of £100 a year for those who needed it after hearing of significant disparities across the country.
It also praised the “huge amount” of positive work being done such as clothing swap shops, counselling, breakfast clubs and summer meal clubs to help address holiday hunger.
In 2015 a UK-wide survey found nearly 800,000 pupils go to school with poorly-fitting, damaged or dirty uniforms.
The report by the Children’s Society highlighted examples where pupils had been sent home for wearing “incorrect” uniforms while others had been bullied.
In Scotland some schools operate a “demerit” system for pupils who don’t wear the correct school dress code, where they can be prevented from taking part in trips or activities.
On average, families spend more than £300 a year on uniform for a child at a state secondary and more than £250 for a pupil at a primary, the survey found.
Iain Gray, education spokesman for Scottish Labour, said the rising costs of school uniforms and trips were leaving too many families struggling to cope.
He said: “It is important schools and Local authorities take this into consideration and make a concerted effort to drive down prices as much as possible.”
Ross Greer, education spokesman for the Scottish Green Party, added: “What we are often seeing is that pupils from low-income families are being penalised or excluded because their school has failed to poverty-proof its uniform policy, or worse, parents being forced to choose between feeding their children and buying them the clothing required.”
During evidence sessions Andrea Bradley, assistant secretary for the Educational Institute of Scotland teaching union, told the committee some additional costs were due to the “complexity and specific nature” of some school uniforms.
She said: “Things such as braiding or school-logo polo shirts are unnecessary fripperies that cost families money and bring about stigma for families that are unable to afford them.
“We need to talk to Local authorities and headteachers about putting in place a policy that makes school uniform universally affordable.”
Eileen Prior from parent body Connect, urged schools not to require children to wear “highly individualised school uniforms with braiding that changes every year”.
And Brian Scott, from the Poverty Truth Commission, said: “For parents who have a few kids at school, it is a massive pressure on their budget and finances to have to go out at the start of a new term to change everything again.
“If the school decides to change colours, or whatever, that negates the possibility of even handing the clothes down to younger children.”
A spokesman for the Children’s Parliament said: “In some cases, not wearing the dress code can result in the child not going to school as the child can be sent home to put on the correct uniform which they may not have. Children can feel confused and upset in such a situation, or perhaps frustrated and angry.”
The committee has now called on the Scottish Government to work with councils to ensure policies at school level and above are “poverty proofed” so there are fewer financial barriers to school education.
Jim Thewliss, general secretary of School Leaders Scotland, which represents secondary headteachers, said all headteachers understood that any policy on uniform needed to be taken forward in partnership with pupils and parents.
Greg Dempster, general secretary of the Association of Headteachers and Deputes, which represents the primary sector, said the standard approach would be to welcome all pupils regardless of what they were wearing.
Source : HeraldScotland