Charity urges Sunderland schools to be more understanding after ‘wrong trousers’ row

Kepier Schol principal Nicola Cooper.
Kepier Schol principal Nicola Cooper.

A North East charity is urging schools to plan ahead to avoid the kind of scenes which have seen pupils sent home for uniform problems.

The Echo reported this week that teachers at Houghton’s Kepier school colour-matched pupils’ trousers to make sure they had been bought from the right shop.

Pupils lined up at Kepier

Pupils lined up at Kepier

Pupils who failed the comparison test were placed into isolation or sent home.

The move divided parents, with some expressing their anger, while others defended the school’s policy.

Headteacher Nicky Cooper said: “We have been in constant communication with parents and homes and I need to say thank you to all the parents who have supported it.

“The very large majority are behind us.”

The NASUWT found we spend more than £100 getting our children ready for school. When you apply that to people who are already struggling financially, then it is real added pressure.

Luke Bramhall

Related: Sunderland Conservatives leader says parents should ‘budget’ for uniforms as he defends school in ‘wrong trousers’ row

Luke Bramhall, from charity Children North East, said head teachers and governors should be aware of the difficulties facing some families and doing everything in their power to help.

“We work with children across the North East, looking at the impact of the school day,” he said.

“One particular effect is the cost of school uniform and the fact it can potentially have a really serious impact on individual families.

The school has taken a firm line on uniform

The school has taken a firm line on uniform

“The NASUWT found we spend more than £100 getting our children ready for school. When you apply that to people who are already struggling financially, then it is real added pressure.

“The fact that schools are turning people away, putting them in exclusion or punishing them in some other way just because they have not got the uniform at the end of what has been an extremely expensive time shows they are not understanding the situation as regards some people’s finances and the difficulties they might have.

“The real challenge for schools now is ‘what can we do for next year to ensure all our pupils are well prepared, and have everything required?’”

Schools should be flexible about allowing parents to buy as much of their child’s uniform as possible from cheaper outlets, such as supermarkets, he said: “Getting something from a specified supplier is usually more expensive then other options.”

What does the Government’s own guidance on school uniform say?

“It is for the governing body of a school to decide whether there should be a school uniform policy and if so what that should be. This flows from the duties placed upon all governing bodies by statute to ensure that school policies promote good behaviour and discipline amongst the pupil body.

“It is also for the governing body to decide how the uniform should be sourced.

“We strongly recommend that in setting its uniform/appearance policy the governing

body:

 *consider the timeframe for introducing a new uniform policy or amending an existing one;

 *take into account the views of parents and pupils on significant changes to school uniform policy;

 *consider the cost, the available supply sources and year round availability of the proposed uniform to ensure it is providing best value for money for parents;

 *consider how the introduction of the proposed uniform policy might affect each group represented in the school and any existing suppliers;

“Once a policy has been agreed, we recommend that the governing body:

 *describe its uniform/appearance policy clearly and ensure that parents are informed;

 *consider carefully reasonable requests to vary the policy, in particular to meet the needs of any individual pupil to accommodate their religion or belief, ethnicity, disability or other special considerations.

The School Admissions Code 2012, which is statutory guidance, states “Admission authorities must ensure that […] policies around school uniform or school trips do not discourage parents from applying for a place for their child.

“No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice, due to the cost of the uniform. School governing bodies should, therefore, give high priority to cost considerations. The governing body should be able to demonstrate how best value has been achieved and keep the cost of supplying the uniform under review.

“When considering how the school uniform should be sourced, governing bodies should give highest priority to the consideration of cost and value for money for parents. The school uniform should be easily available for parents to purchase and schools should seek to select items that can be purchased cheaply, for example in a supermarket or other good value shop.

“Schools should keep compulsory branded items to a minimum and avoid specifying expensive items.

“Exclusive single supplier contracts should be avoided unless regular tendering competitions are run where more than one supplier can compete for the contract and where best value for parents is secured.

“Disputes about school uniforms should be resolved locally and should be pursued in accordance with the school’s complaints policy. In law, governing bodies must have a complaints procedure in place to deal with issues such as a complaint about school uniform.

“Teachers can discipline pupils for breaching the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. This should be carried out in accordance with the school’s published behaviour policy.

“A head teacher, or a person authorised by the head teacher, may ask a pupil to go home briefly to remedy a breach of the school’s rules on appearance or uniform. When making this decision schools need to consider the child’s age and vulnerability, the ease and time it will take, and the availability of the child’s parents.

“This is not an exclusion but an authorised absence. However, if the pupil continues to breach uniform rules in such a way as to be sent home to avoid school, or takes longer than is strictly necessary to effect the change, the pupil’s absence may be counted as an unauthorised absence.”