The back to school routine wouldn’t be complete without the last-minute rush to buy school uniform and sew / iron / hammer on a thousand labels. For many parents it becomes the bane of their life – and their credit cards.
Some people think school uniforms are a complete waste of time (and money) and should be banned. Others argue that they increase the sense of community, help break down class barriers between students and add to a sense of disciplined learning in school.
There’s been a lot of coverage in the media about the cost of school uniforms. New research has shown that the School Uniform Grant, a national benefit created in 1980 to help parents with clothing costs, is unavailable in over 80% of English local authority areas.
One MP is even trying to introduce a new school uniform bill in parliament which would set a maximum price for items, force schools to make their uniforms available from multiple suppliers and restrict how many items have requirements specific to the school.
Until that happens here are some tips which can make buying your child’s school uniform less stressful for both you and your bank balance.
1/ Don’t buy more branded school uniform than you need
Here’s what you probably need to buy from the school supplier: a couple of school jumpers or cardigans, polo shirts and a book bag. Possibly a PE t-shirt if this is branded.
What you can buy from the supermarket or other shops: everything else.
- Pinafore dresses, summer dresses, skirts or trousers for girls
- Trousers or shorts for boys
- PE trousers / shorts / jumpers
- Tights / socks
If you have a girl who wears a pinafore dress you don’t even need to buy branded t-shirts because the logo will be hidden by the dress anyway.
Many schools do second hand sales where you can pick up lots of preloved branded uniform, so speak to the school office and find out if yours is having one. If you’re a member of a local area Facebook group you could also post on there, asking if anyone has any uniform to sell.
2/ Buy school uniform that’s easy for your child
It’s tempting to buy those lovely shoes with the pretty buckles or laces but your child has to be able to take them on and off for PE themselves and this can be difficult when they’re little. Instead go for Velcro shoes which are much easier for them.
Trousers are also a good option for girls on PE days as they’re easier to take on and off than tights and go for summer dresses with zips if your child finds buttons a bit tricky.
3/ Look for early sales
Many shops have back to school sales at the beginning of summer (M&S usually does theirs in June). This is a great time to get a good deal and avoid the last-minute panic in August or September when the shelves are bare.
Your child is unlikely to grow out of their new uniform over summer but it’s often worth buying a size bigger if you can get away with it. And if they end up being too big, you can stash them away in the wardrobe ready for next year.
4/ Don’t spend a fortune on shoes
Your daughter may NEED the shiny shoes with the Disney character on but if she’s anything like mine, they’ll look like roadkill within half a term. If your child scoots to school and has a habit of using their shoes as breaks, they’ll get scuffed within days.
Supermarkets do a great range of school shoes at an affordable price and although you may need to try on a few to get the right fit for your child, they’re pretty comfy. Our favourite is Asda. Also buy the shoes earlier on in the summer because by the end of August shopping for shoes is a nightmare and your child’s feet are unlikely to grow massively in one month.
5/ Look for crease resistant uniform so you don’t have to iron.
Ironing sucks. Nuff said.
6/ Choose dark coloured socks and tights
Most schools have a range of acceptable colours for tights and socks. Get dark ones because white socks get grubby really quickly, especially in autumn and winter. For girls, get tights one or two sizes bigger as they tend to shrink.
If you have two children at the same school, buy them different coloured socks or tights or you’ll lose your mind trying to sort them out on laundry day.
7/ Label EVERYTHING
Even socks. Especially hats / scarves / snoods. If you send your child to school with unlabelled gloves you will never see them again. If you feel life is too short to sew / iron on, just write their names in permanent ink on the actual clothing label. Job done.
8/ Wash separately
This was a tough pill for me to swallow as I’m very much a chuck it all in and hope for the best type person. But those shiny white polo shirts become sad and grey-looking almost overnight so wash them separately if you want them to last. And beware the bright red jumpers / cardigans if you don’t want everything else you own to have a nice pink tinge to it.
How much school uniform should I buy?
This depends on your child and how much they like to throw their school dinner over themselves on a daily basis. Here’s a suggested starter shopping list:
- 4-5 polo shirts
- 2-3 Cardigans / jumpers
- 3 Trousers / shorts / dresses / skirts
- 5-10 Socks / tights
Should I go for quality or quantity when buying school uniform?
This depends on your budget and personal choice of course but many parents do a combo of the two. Your child will wear their school uniform into the ground and it will be washed hundreds of times. The cheaper options may not last as long.
I find M&S wears and washes really well and they have good early summer sales, so I tend to buy the basics from there and top up from the supermarket.