Whether it's the "dress-down day" effect or a new younger breed of school leaders isn't clear, but the tie is losing ground as a part of school uniform. In the 2003 survey for the then Department for Education and Skills, 79 per cent of secondary schools required a tie; by the 2007 Department for Children, Schools and Families' survey, the percentage had fallen to 52 per cent.
This will come as a relief to many teachers who have battled for years to force teenagers firstly to wear their ties and then to do them up correctly. Sadly, the change won't make much difference to parents, as ties are one of the cheapest items on the uniform bill. Blazers, another relic of an earlier age rarely seen outside of schools these days, are the most expensive item bought specially as a part of a school uniform, costing the average parent almost Pounds 32 each. The cost of a uniform for a primary pupil averaged Pounds 159 and for a secondary pupil Pounds 209.
The cost of uniforms accounted for 23 per cent of the total spend on schooling for a primary school child but, despite the higher cost, only 17 per cent of the nearly Pounds 1,200 a parent had to pay for a secondary school pupil. This was because, apart from higher uniform costs, secondary pupils had higher expenditure on school trips and class materials, as well as stationery items.
Parents from lower income households spent a greater proportion of their income on school costs, with 58 per cent of households earning less than Pounds 15,000 spending 11 per cent or more of their income just keeping their children in school, despite help with meals and other costs. Schooling is not really free, whatever the rhetoric.
John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys, part of TSL Education.