Scottish pupils face being forced to wear gender neutral uniforms as part of a radical plan to cut costs for parents and to promote ‘equality in the classroom’.
Nicola Sturgeon’s coalition government has launched a public consultation on the proposal, which says reforming the national uniform policy will remove ‘unnecessary rules around what each gender should wear’.
The SNP-Green plan also wants to help families struggling through the cost-of-living crisis by introducing a price cap that would remove ‘huge costs on families due to overly specific policies and too few suppliers’, according to Ross Greer MSP, education. spokesman for the Scottish Greens.
Under the proposal, blazers and branded PE kits could be outlawed and replaced with gender-neutral ‘generic items of uniform’.
All schools, including private institutions, would be affected by the law change.
It means the famous Fettes College in Edinburgh – which counts Tony Blair and Tilda Swinton among its alumni – could face having to ditch its iconic uniform, including its stripy £120 blazer.
Scotland already has a grant to help parents pay for uniforms, offering at least £120 per child.
Mr Greer said: ‘This new national guidance is an opportunity to let young people, parents and carers choose good value clothing which meets their school’s rules without needing to buy from expensive specialist retailers.
Nicola Sturgeon’s coalition government has launched a public consultation on the proposal, which says reforming the national uniform policy will remove ‘unnecessary rules around what each gender should wear’. (Pictured: Ms Sturgeon during First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament, on May 19)
The proposals mean the famous Fettes College in Edinburgh – which counts Tony Blair and Tilda Swinton among its alumni – could face having to ditch its iconic uniform, including its stripy £120 blazer (students wearing blazer pictured)
The reform hopes to ‘promote equality, including recognizing specific matters relating to religion and belief, disability, sex and gender’ in classrooms. But some education leaders have criticized the plans. (Pictured: Elite Fettes College)
School uniforms set the average parent back hundreds of pounds per year – but Scotland has grant to help them meet costs.
School uniform costs an average of £337 a year for secondary schools and £315 for primaries, according to The Children’s Society.
At the elite Fettes College in Edinburgh, a blazer alone costs £120.
But Scotland already has a grant set up to help struggling families pay for their kids’ school attire.
Parents can apply for the ‘school clothing grant’ via their local councils.
The cash grant, if awarded is then paid directly into their bank account.
The council decides how much will be provided, but the minimum is £120 per child of primary school age and £150 for secondary school pupils.
‘I hope that as many young people as possible make their voices heard over the course of the consultation so that any new guidance works for them.’
The reform hopes to ‘promote equality, including recognizing specific matters relating to religion and belief, disability, sex and gender’ in classrooms.
But some school leaders have hit out at the plans, with one saying they left him ‘bemused’.
John Edward, Director of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, told the Telegraph: ‘I’m not sure why it’s the business of government ministers what children in non-government schools wear. The whole point of our schools is they’re run independently.
‘So choices they make about uniform, the curriculum, admissions or anything else should be their business.’
He said that uniforms were ‘really important’ to many schools as they are ‘part of who they are and their identity.’
He added: ‘Our schools work day in, day out to make sure uniforms are ethical, gender-appropriate, resilient. This is a conversation they have all the time, but I’m not sure why it’s a conversation they need to have with anyone else.’
The Scottish government said the goal was not to abolish uniforms entirely, but to instead provide a list of rules that can ‘inform local authorities and school policies’.
Education Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: ‘School uniform can promote a sense of identity, belonging and connectedness to school.
‘However, the cost can be a significant burden for families, although there is no legal requirement to wear uniform.
Lindsay Paterson, a professor of educational policy at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘If the main advantage of uniforms is that they help to form a strong identity for a school, then only the school should decide.
‘That is as true of independent schools as of schools that are managed by the local authorities.’
It comes as schools in England will soon be required to help keep uniform costs down by removing unnecessary branded items from their lists and selling second hand items.
The Department for Education (DfE) published new statutory guidance for schools in November last year, instructing them to ensure their uniform is affordable from September 2022.
Schools are expected to have taken steps to follow the new rules before parents buy uniform for the next academic year – potentially saving families hundreds of pounds as they can opt not to buy often expensive branded items such as blazers from specialist schoolwear suppliers.
The Education (Guidance About Costs of School Uniform) Bill was passed in April last year, making guidance given to schools about the cost of uniform policies legally binding.
Schools will be encouraged to switch to generic uniforms in a bid to bring down sky-high uniform costs which have reached £337 a year per child for secondary students according to The Children’s Society.
Single-supplier contracts will be advised against unless they are regularly reviewed with a new competitive tender process at least once every five years to keep prices low.
The guidance also sets out that uniform policy should be made after consulting parents and that each school’s rules should be set out clearly on their website.
The Government has also advised schools to make second-hand options available in order to reduce the carbon footprint from schools as it continues its push to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
DfE research showed that in 2015, parents were saving £50 per uniform when their child’s uniform could be bought from any shop rather than a school-recommended supplier.
School uniform costs an average of £337 a year for secondary schools and £315 for primaries, according to The Children’s Society. Some items, such as secondary school blazers with the school’s logo can cost as much as £50 each.
The bill was first introduced by Labor MP Mike Amesbury and received cross-party support. However, the DfE’s guidance was not published in time for the start of the 2021/22 school year, a delay the government was criticized for by stakeholders.
The new rules mean a move away from monopolies which specialist suppliers have long enjoyed, often charging more expensive prices for items which can be bought cheaper elsewhere, but which have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years.