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Consultation starts on NI price cap

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Getty Images Father and daughter walking to schoolGetty Images

Views are sought on school uniform costs in Northern Ireland

A public consultation has started on whether a price cap should be introduced for school uniforms in Northern Ireland.

Education Minister Paul Givan initially announced the move in the Northern Ireland Assembly in March.

He has said he wanted to ensure no families are excluded from the school of their choice because of the cost.

He added uniforms “play an important part in the engagement of pupils” in schools and while many schools “work hard” on price, some, he added, had policies where certain items “are expensive or restrictive”.

‘Number one financial burden’

Speaking to the BBC Radio Ulster’s The Nolan Show on Thursday, Mr Givan said that a the 15-week consultation process would take “views from parents, schools, children and young people”.

“This is the number one financial burden parents have highlighted that they face every year when it comes to schools,” he told the programme.

Mr Givan said that he thought uniforms were “right and there is a place for them, but we need to make sure that it is not overly expensive that it could become prohibative in choosing a school”.

Within the consultation process is an exploration of how to avoid “exclusive arrangements” between schools and providers, and the idea of a uniform cap.

Also within the consultation process is how schools can limit the specific type of colours within uniforms which make it difficult for mass retailers and supermarkets to supply.

“We don’t want to be prescriptive around this is what you must do, but we are trying to provide a better framework for schools to take these decisions within the local economy,” he added.

What school uniform support is available in Northern Ireland?

Getty Images Six students wearing school uniformsGetty Images

Low-income parents and carers can qualify for a one-off grant towards school uniform costs

A new law mandating schools to remove unnecessary branded items from their uniform requirements came into effect in England in September 2022, however no such legislation exists in Northern Ireland.

Some low-income families qualify for a one-off payment toward uniform costs.

However, the grant – which works out at about £43 for a primary school pupil and £62 or £67 for a secondary school pupil – is lower than schemes available elsewhere in the UK.

Proposed guidance to keep uniforms ‘affordable for all’

A Department of Education spokesperson said it “has engaged with key interest groups and stakeholders”, which has informed proposals outlined in the consultation document.

The consultation, which runs until 27 September, also focuses on introducing statutory guidance on uniforms.

It will look at areas such as affordability, comfort and sustainability.

School uniform policies, it continued, should be regularly reviewed and developed in partnership with pupils and their parents/carers.

Mr Givan said: “At a time of growing pressure on family budgets, the cost of a school uniform should not be a factor that parents or carers need to consider when selecting which school they wish their child to attend.”

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