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Executive urged to tackle Northern Ireland's school uniform costs


Some parents in Northern Ireland are struggling to meet school uniform costs.

Some parents in Northern Ireland are struggling to meet school uniform costs.

Some parents in Northern Ireland are struggling to meet school uniform costs.

The Stormont Executive has been urged to take action over the rising cost of school uniforms after Belfast City Council moved to help address the issue.

Enniskillen father-of-four Dylan Quinn said the council's decision to support groups reusing school uniform and PE kits was to be welcomed, but that it was evidence of a much larger issue.

Mr Quinn, who runs a dance company in the area, said the rising costs of uniforms were becoming an issue for many parents and called on the Department of Education to take action.

A number of charitable groups have been set up across Northern Ireland to supply second-hand uniforms to parents in need, while school uniform grants are available for some parents through the Clothing Allowance Scheme.

Government guidance states: "Schools should make sure their uniform is available in different shops, retail outlets and internet suppliers rather than from one supplier."

Belfast Deputy Lord Mayor Peter McReynolds introduced the motion to council to support these groups, saying he was "horrified" upon learning the financial impact on families of uniforms.

Dylan Quinn

Mr Quinn said the fact councils were introducing these measures showed the pressure parents were under trying to meet the high costs of school uniforms.

He called for a streamlined approach to the pricing of school uniforms.

Mr Quinn proposed the Department of Education could introduce basic universal uniform requirements that are affordable, while looking presentable and not impeding learning.

"No school has better intentions than another, they all want to do their best to educate the children and I think that should be reflected in the uniform. It can be done for a much more reasonable price than upwards of £100," he said.

"The difference in the price of a blazer for two schools in the same area can be stark, especially between secondary and grammar schools.

"In some smaller areas the uniforms can only be purchased from one retailer which gives them an effective monopoly over uniforms, allowing them to set their own price point."

Mr Quinn said that parents were being asked to provide much more beyond the basic uniform.

"They are asking parents to provide everything from PE kits to raincoats, why would a child need a school specific raincoat? Surely anything that keeps them dry would be suitable," he said.

"It's not cost effective. Schools need to be realistic about what parents can afford, these costs run into the hundreds before you get to things like 'voluntary' donations and school trips."


Peter McReynolds

Peter McReynolds

Peter McReynolds

Councillor McReynolds said he had received a "huge response" from parents since introducing the motion.

The Alliance councillor said he was liaising with Assembly colleague Chris Lyttle on the issue to see if any action could be taken at Executive level.

"Parents are being asked to buy specific items from specific retailers and that alongside the cost of living is just too much for some families," Councillor McReynolds said.

"I was horrified to learn from the Irish League of Credit Unions that one in three families are putting themselves in debt through back to school costs.

"It's not just a case of sending your kids to school and off they go, these things have to be paid for."

The deputy Lord Mayor introduced the motion to support the "great work" already being done by local groups recycling and reusing the uniforms.

"Schools do seem to have free reign around the pricing and maybe this is something we need to see the Executive take the lead with," Councillor McReynolds said.

"There's also an element that it is elitist for some schools to set high prices, but not everyone who attends that school will be able to afford these prices.

"Something really needs to be done at Assembly level to put pressure on school and reduce the costs, any political pressure would be welcome to raise the issue."

The Department of Education has been contacted for a response.

Belfast Telegraph