Every year, parents of schoolchildren are confronted with the costs of buying a new school uniform, or even two, one for summer and one for winter.
A pair of socks with a stripe, a shirt with a badge and so on, and often these can only be purchased at a specific shop at a high cost. Schools enter agreements with these uniform suppliers for the exclusive items in each uniform.
Is it fair to allow these shops to dictate their prices to the parents? Especially if one considers that some of these items could be found, unbranded, at a much lower price elsewhere.
There is a guideline set out by the Department of Basic Education which is aimed at making school uniforms affordable. They do this by recommending that uniforms be as generic as possible, so grey pants are grey pants, grey socks remain as grey socks and a white shirt is exactly that. Only certain items should be available exclusively from the selected supplier β these would be the branded items such as ties. Schools should look at having iron-on badges printed on patches rather than having branded individual items.
The Competition Commission has also given some guidance on this. Three guidelines have been set out to deal with this. Firstly, selecting suppliers must be done by a bidding process; secondly, more than one supplier must be chosen to allow parents a choice; and thirdly, these agreements must be for a fixed term.
It should also be noted that the department warns that no child should be prevented from attending school or participating in extra-mural activities because they donβt have the correct uniform.
We can help and have been helping by the generous act of giving uniforms to children in need or even to schools in need. This does happen, and it is encouraging to note that the department supports this practice.
One education institution has even offered to advertise second-hand school uniforms on their website. This would allow parents a channel to donate uniforms that their children have outgrown to incoming learners.