Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Autumn Statement should reduce VAT on school-specific or ‘badged’ uniform

Chairman of the Schoolwear Association, David Burgess, says the Chancellor should take the opportunity in the Autumn Statement to reduce VAT on school-specific or ‘badged’ uniform.

The Association, whose members clothe three quarters of the UK’s schoolchildren, brought an early day motion to address the issue back in 2008, claiming that a reduction in the rate to 5% could put more than £4 million back into the pockets of parents each year.

Currently, VAT is only exempt on uniform sizes deemed to be appropriate for children aged 13 years and younger.  With many children aged 11-13 years old currently larger or taller than the norm, the current arrangement ignores legitimate differences in the size or the height of children who may need to purchase sizes in the taxable range.

Another anomaly is that VAT has to be paid on the book bags and rucksacks that children need for school. We believe that if the bag has the school logo on it, then it is a school item and should not be subject to VAT.

Not only that, the rise in the age of compulsory education to 18 years means that families are now having to pay even more VAT.

David Burgess said: 

“We support the current trend for schools to move towards smarter, school-specific uniform.  Not only does this kind of dress increase a sense of pride and belonging for pupils, it also has direct benefits for improving behaviour and raising attainment.

“We believe that quality uniform is an investment worth making, we want it to be affordable for all and with the cost of living on the increase, it is more important than ever, that we do all we can to reduce costs for parents.”

Monday, 14 November 2016

A uniform response to bullying

Smart, school-specific school uniform is a powerful weapon in the fight against bullying says the Schoolwear Association.

As new statistics collated by Bullying UK reveal that 42% of children have reported taking time off school because of bullying, the Schoolwear Association, whose members clothe three quarters of British school children, is encouraging parents and schools to support the adoption of robust uniform policies.

“We recognise that bullying is complex and happens for a huge number of reasons,” says the Association’s Chairman, David Burgess, “but we think uniform can play an important role in tackling bullying in school.”

“Most obviously, uniform puts students on a level playing field in terms of dress and reduces opportunities for bullying based on appearance.

“Outside of school, it enables students to be identified in the wider community – increasing both their security and their accountability outside of the school gates.”

He says there are wider benefits too:

“Smart, school specific uniform helps to instil pride and a greater sense of community amongst students in schools.

“Many head teachers have reported a direct link between the introduction of robust uniform policies and improvements in school-wide behaviour and attainment. 

“We believe every child deserves to experience those benefits.”

 

Monday, 31 October 2016

The psychological impact of uniform

The Schoolwear Association believes there are real benefits to students wearing school uniform.

And with a growing trend to adopt increasingly smart, school-specific uniform, it seems that schools agree.

The idea that wearing uniform reduces peer pressure and bullying because everyone is dressed the same is fairly obvious.

But what about its ability to improve behaviour more generally and raise attainment?  Can what you wear really change the way you feel, think and act?
There is plenty of research to suggest that it can.

There are lots of studies to show that clothing has a strong impact on how you see yourself as well as how others see you.

A project to measure the effect of workplace dress on employee self-perceptions showed that people viewed themselves as most authoritative, trustworthy, productive and competent when wearing formal business attire as opposed more casual dress.1

In a similar study, employees reported ‘psychological discomfort’ if they felt ‘inappropriately dressed for work’, whereas they felt most confident when dressed ‘appropriately’ in comparison to their colleagues. 
Researchers Adam and Galinsky determined that clothing could actually affect the way people behave. 

They conducted an experiment with a white lab coat; an item of clothing they found people tend to associate with attention to detail. 

One group of participants wore a white lab coat described as a painter’s coat and another group wore the same lab coat which was described as a medical doctor’s lab coat. A third group saw the lab coat but did not wear it.  They were then given a task to perform which tested their ability to concentrate despite various distractions. The group wearing the coat described as a medical doctor’s lab coat significantly outperformed the other two groups.

All of these studies, and many more besides, have found clear links between dress and the way we behave.
But recent research by a team of psychological scientists from California State University, Northridge and Columbia University goes even further than that to suggest that the formality of our dress can actually change the way we think.4

In their experiment, they first asked students to rate the formality of what they were wearing in relation to their peers. Then they got them to perform a series of tests designed to measure their style of thinking: they were given a list of actions and asked to choose between abstract and concrete explanations for the action. For example, the description for ‘‘voting’’ could be the more abstract: ‘‘influencing the election’’, or the more concrete action: ‘‘marking a ballot.’’

The more formally the student felt they were dressed, the more likely they were to opt for the abstract descriptions, suggesting that formal dressing leads to more abstract thinking.

So what does it all mean for school uniform?

Whilst the research out there doesn’t prove the specific benefits of school uniform, it does back up the idea that children who go to school in a smart, formal uniform that matches their peers’ are likely to feel more comfortable, less open to peer pressure and in a mindset that says they are ready to learn.

Behavioural Psychologist, Jo Hemmings, says:

“A badly fitted or tatty uniform means children stand out from their peer group, and can make them feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, and a likelier target for teasing and bullying.

“It’s important to choose uniform that fits your child well, is comfortable to wear and good quality, and to keep it in good order.”

What do you think?  Does the way you dress affect the way you think, feel or act?

  1. (Peluchette J, Karl K: The impact of workplace attire on employee self-perceptions. Human Resource Development Quarterly. 2007, 18 (3): 345-360.)
  2. (Rafaeli A, Dutton J, Harquial C, Mackie-Lewis S: Navigating by attire: the use of dress by administrative employees. Academy of Management Journal. 1997, 40: 19-45.)
  3. (Adam H, Galinsky AD: Enclothed cognition, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 2012 48 (4): 918-925.)
  4. (Slepian, M. L., Ferber, S. N., Gold, J. M., & Rutchick, A. M. (2015). The Cognitive Consequences of Formal Clothing. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi: 10.1177/1948550615579462)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

How can supermarkets sell school uniform so cheaply?

With Supermarkets offering school shirts for less than the price of a cup of coffee, school uniform has never seemed so affordable; welcome news you might think for hard pressed parents.  But have you ever stopped to consider just how good value the uniform you can pop in your trolley with the weekly shop really is?  Exactly how can it be produced so cheaply?

The simple answer is, it can’t.  The pair of polo shirts you can pick up for less than £2 from Aldi or Lidl will have passed through hundreds of people’s hands – from the workers who weave the fabric through to those involved in the manufacturing process to national and international shipping - before arriving on the shelves.  That all costs money.  But many supermarkets use your children’s uniform as a loss leader: something they accept they’ll lose rather than make money on.  The payoff?  It gets you into their store.

In other words, it’s a marketing ploy.  Which is fine, but leads you to question just how much concern the retail giants can have for the quality of these garments.  It also raises concerns about the ‘hidden costs’ of cheap clothing, such as the conditions of poor families in developing countries.

Whilst good quality uniform might have slightly higher up-front costs, it is an investment that pays longer term dividends – both in terms of your pocket and your child’s education.

Firstly, it will last longer.  A blazer, one of the more expensive uniform items for example, will typically stay with your child for two school years; and then you’ll probably pass it on to younger siblings.  So over, time, it represents excellent value.

We also know from schools that good quality, school-specific uniform contributes to higher educational attainment, better behaviour in school and increased safety because students are identifiable.  And we certainly believe that’s an investment worth making.

So how do schools provide good value uniforms to their students? They work closely with specialist suppliers who understand the importance of school wear and what it needs to stand up to.  These suppliers have the experience and knowledge to recommend good value designs which create a sense of pride in school and community.

Most suppliers recommend a mix of school specific items (like branded blazers and sweatshirts) alongside more generic items (like trousers or polo shirts) to help keep costs down.

Importantly, they recognise that children continue to grow throughout the school year and make sure parents can buy uniform items in the sizes they need all year round, not just at ‘back to school’ time.

In a throw-away culture it is easy to be tempted by the ‘cheaper now’ option.  At that price, if it’s ruined after a few months you’ll just replace it, right?

But is that just false economy?  And with a growing trend to consider where our clothes come from, the quality of the materials they are made with and what happens to them after we discard them, perhaps it’s time to invest a little more up front to reap the longer term benefits. 

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

FIVE MAJOR UNIFORM CHALLENGES FACING SCHOOLS IN 2016/17

The Schoolwear Association, whose members together help to clothe three-quarters of Britain’s children, highlights five big challenges facing schools, governors, parents and suppliers as they head into the new school year.

1.   Surge in secondary school student numbers
Government figures show the number of pupils attending England's secondary schools is to rise by 20% over the course of the next decade, with nearly 3.3 million pupils expected to be attending state-funded secondaries by 2024, compared with just over 2.7 million in 2015. According to the Department for Education, this is mainly due to the upturn in the birth rate. Schools don't always get the timing right with suppliers so with rising numbers of students needing to be kitten out, it is vital to work closely together and plan well in advance to ensure that every child benefits from the advantages of a good quality, school specific uniforms in improved learning, behaviour and safety.

2.   Pressure to reduce cost and price, compromising quality
Some stores are launching a price war in order to increase footfall by selling off-the-shelf school clothing, in turn some schools are under unreasonable pressure to reduce school uniform prices. It is a false economy to try to clothe children on the cheap. Poor quality clothes aren't durable and don’t do the job properly.

As with everything, there are genuine benefits from paying a little extra for a good value product and service. A uniform that is made well does the job better and offers real value because it lasts longer and looks the part. Going for the cheapest option may also come with a hidden price tag, at the expense of the environment or the conditions of the workers who had to produce the clothes. While proper school uniform sometimes gets singled out as expensive. The real drain on many family budgets is often the branded clothing children wear when they are not in school.

3.   Religion
In the diverse country in which we live, schools have to think carefully about how to accommodate religious beliefs. This means school uniforms must be flexible enough to be able to meet the needs of everyone without compromising the school's identity.

4.   Obesity
Unfortunately, Obesity in children is continuing to increase in the UK, impacting many school students. It is one of the reasons schoolwear suppliers have to stock a wide range of different shapes and sizes, including larger school uniforms. A commitment to a school to provide uniform in all sizes, all year round is one of the reasons that schools prefer to work with specialist suppliers.

5.   Transgender / gender diversity
Some schools are moving towards more gender neutral school uniforms, as part of a drive for the education system to be more open to children questioning their gender identity. The important thing is not whether there are well-defined male and female versions of a uniform but that the school retains a strict policy to ensure that everyone can wear the uniform in a way that contributes to the school's identity and everyone's sense of belonging to the school and its local community.

David Burgess, Chairman of the Schoolwear Association, said: “As we enter the new school year, it is an opportunity to highlight the benefits of good quality uniform. We understand that price is important but a uniform that is made well does the job better than cheap off-the-shelf clothing and offers better value because it lasts longer. We advise schools and parents to work with specialist suppliers to find the best value uniform for children, who are also in a position to cater to all of a school's uniform requirements. Making good decisions at the outset will always provide better long term value.”