School crest rules stop parents from getting bargain price uniforms
Supremrakets are offering cash-strapped families competitive deals on back-to-school uniforms, with one retailer charging as little as £7.50 for a full outfit.
But not all parents will be able to take advantage of knock-down prices as some schools still insist that "official" crested clothing must be worn.
Northern Ireland's so-called 'big three' have slashed the cost of shirts, trousers, jumpers and cardigans, among other products, to encourage customers to cash in.
And one discount retailer is now selling shoes aimed at the back-to-school market for just £6.99.
Parents with children at primary school, where elements of the uniform may be picked up from any shop, will welcome the deals on the table.
Asda is currently offering a shirt, trousers and jumper combination for boys for £7.50, for example, while Tesco's retail price for a similar outfit is £9.
Sainsbury's lowest combination for the same trio of boy's clothing is £15.50, but its purchase price also includes an extra polo shirt, a pair of trousers and a jumper.
Meanwhile, M&S is selling two boy's shirts, a pair of trousers and a jumper for £21.00
A spokeswoman for Lidl said the discounter was not stocking uniforms this year, but she added that school shoes were available for £6.99.
Despite the battle of the supermarkets, many parents across the province will not be able to avail of these cheap alternatives, especially when it comes to jumpers or sweatshirts.
That is because many primary schools have their own signature pullovers that must be worn by the children who go there.
Parents have also complained that restrictions, such as having to wear certain brands or only being able to buy items in specific shops, have led to costs going through the roof.
This is a particular bugbear when it comes to post-primary education, where the cost of blazers and sports kits, often in excess of £100, can send the back-to-school bill spiralling out of control.
Marie Cavanagh from Gingerbread NI, an organisation that helps one-parent families, said the cost of uniforms remained a major concern.
"It's good to see supermarkets offering generic items at affordable prices, but the cost of school clothes is very worrying for parents, especially if they have two or three children," she added.
"Blazers and sportswear can be really expensive, and that's hard to budget for on a fixed income."
The Department of Education issued guidance to schools in March 2011 regarding school uniform policy.
Education Minister John O'Dowd told the Belfast Telegraph yesterday that he expected boards of governors to give high priority to cost considerations when designing their uniforms.
"Uniform costs that are too high can create a barrier to children accessing certain schools," he added.
"Parents and families should not have to decide what school their children can attend on the basis of whether or not they can afford the school uniform."
Mr O'Dowd also said his department provided support to low-income families via the school uniform grant. The Clothing Allowance Scheme covers primary, post-primary and special schools.
In 2014/15, the department claimed it provided approximately £5.1 million to support families with school uniform costs, enabling approximately 93,000 pupils to benefit from the grant.
Parents who think they may be eligible should contact the Education Authority, which will be able to provide additional information.
Further information is available on the Nidirect website at www.nidirect.gov.uk/school-uniform-grant.