For 13-year-old Daniel going without a uniform could have meant going without an education. When his mum, Kirsty, lost her job she struggled to afford to replace his school clothes. For her son the choice was simple: turn up at school in an uncomfortable, outgrown uniform or don’t turn up at all.
As time went by, he chose to stay away. Before long, he was missing more and more of his lessons. It's hard to imagine missing out on an education because your school shirt is too small, but that was the reality facing Daniel. He was not alone. Other children can’t afford coats. Some have no school shoes.
Parents have struggled for years with the cost of uniforms, which can run to more than £300. Now, they face the same challenges alongside a cost-of-living crisis the likes of which few of us have witnessed before. The coming months will see households in real financial difficulty. At a time like this, meeting the cost of a uniform can become impossible.
Today, Daniel is back in school. The charity School-Home Support stepped in to buy him the uniform he needed. Charities, communities and companies are all working to help pupils facing a similar crisis. Schools themselves offer direct support - some running ‘uniform banks’ to pass on previously owned uniforms. Others re-direct funds to buy new uniforms for those who need them.
This work is vital, but increased demand means extra costs for charities and schools alike. So this year Provident Financial has provided £100,000 for free uniforms, which has been distributed by School-Home Support and Dixons Academies Trust in Bradford, Liverpool, Manchester, and Blackpool.
The scheme has been running throughout the summer, making sure that children get the uniforms they need for the start of the September term, and is set to benefit more than 1,000 pupils. The initiative has been successful and we’ll look to see how we can build on it next year.
Dixons Academies Trust has supplied uniforms directly to families served by their schools. For School-Home Support, providing a much-needed uniform can open the door to better communication and trust with a family so that work on other barriers to school and education can be tackled. This way, we can give children the best possible start and a chance to set off on a path to a better everyday life.
Both of us have spent years working to achieve these ends, Provident Financial through partnerships with social mobility, literacy, and numeracy charities including School-Home Support. Tackling barriers to education, such as inadequate school uniform, makes sure that children are in school and ready to learn. No one can get a good start if those barriers stand in the way.
There is not one single intervention that will undo the impact of soaring energy bills and steep inflation, but the partners in this project can make a real difference for individual families. After the disruption of the Covid years, we cannot afford to let anything else interfere with children’s education and pupils like Daniel cannot be left with nowhere to turn.
Malcolm Le May is the chief executive of Provident Financial Group. Jaine Stannard is the chief executive of School-Home Support