U-turn on grants for school uniforms welcome
The Department of Education's U-turn over cutting the school uniform grant scheme is to be welcomed. It had intended to reduce the funding for the scheme by £3m, a move which had been strongly criticised by thousands of families who receive grants.
In the great scale of departmental budgets, the saving of £3m would not make an appreciable difference to the running of the education system - but it could be a game-changer for very many families on low incomes.
Some 98,000 pupils were in receipt of grants ranging from £35.75 for primary schools to £56 for post-primary students aged over 15. Given the cost of uniforms - and the need to replace worn or damaged items of clothing or footwear - the grants were invaluable to many parents.
If proof were needed of the strain that buying uniforms puts on parents, one only has to look at the success of two recycling schemes set up by parents in the Greater Belfast and Londonderry areas.
These parents are to be applauded for their ingenuity and those who have donated uniforms that their own children no longer need also deserve a pat on the back.
Uniforms serve two purposes - one is to give a school a particular image and the other is to ensure that all children, whatever their background, dress the same when in the classroom.
Both purposes are laudable, but the problem arises over cost, which can rise to around £300 in some instances.
This newspaper has highlighted how the decision by Lurgan Junior High School to change its Year 8 PE uniform and make it available solely from a stockist in another town has been met with dismay by parents, especially as the cost of the outfit has risen.
Schools need to be aware of the strain that buying uniforms places on parents, especially if they have more than one child of school-going age. School trips and other incidentals add to the bill and savings in other household expenditure have to be made.
Surely it is possible for schools to retain their identity, while also ensuring that uniform prices remain as competitive as possible. After all, stockists are ensured of a captive market each year.
Meanwhile, some of the political outrage expressed at the original plan to cut the funding of the grants scheme rang hollow, since local politicians have the power to make such decisions if they would agree to restore devolution.
Blaming others fools no-one.