Lord Agnew has told MPs that schools' insistence that parents should buy uniforms from only one supplier is a “pernicious way” of excluding less well-off children from attending.
The Department for Education minister promised to “go after schools” that allowed one supplier to have a monopoly on their uniforms, adding that he would be happy to amend government guidance to help reduce costs.
He was responding to concerns raised by Emma Hardy MP about the costs faced by parents who are told they have to buy uniforms from one approved supplier, or who have to buy branded clothing.
He said: “I don’t like it. It’s a pernicious way of excluding children from less well-off backgrounds.”
Ms Hardy, who is campaigning to reduce school-uniform costs, said parents were being asked to buy branded blazers, trouser, skirts and even socks.
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The Hull West and Hessle MP asked Lord Agnew about what could be done to encourage schools not to use sole suppliers for their uniforms, and to cut back on the number of branded items of uniform that children were expected to wear.
Lord Agnew, who was appearing at a select committee hearing on school-holiday poverty today, asked Ms Hardy for evidence and a list of schools that were insisting on sole suppliers for their uniforms.
He said: “On the issue of these monopoly-type deals, I want to go after them. I hate monopolists in every form that they come and this is particularly pernicious.”
He told MPs that he thought such practices only happened at a small number of schools.
The minister also told MPs that the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) was involved in setting up an enquiry into school uniforms. Although, after the hearing, a DfE spokesperson contacted Tes to say that no such enquiry was due to be held.
Lord Agnew also told MPs that “there is a quite good news story" to be told about the reduction of school-uniform costs in general.
He highlighted how a price-comparison list had shown Aldi was offering a uniform package for £4.50 that was 10 per cent less than last year.
Ms Hardy responded: “That is because they are non-branded items. This is the point. If you allow parents to shop around and buy non-branded items, then they can get them at really reasonable prices.
“What I would like the government to do is to encourage schools not use to use branding on their uniform or to at least make branding optional.
“Now, I have seen examples of schools insisting on a tiny logo on the sides of trousers or the sides of skirts, which then makes those trousers three times the cost of a plain pair of trousers from their local supermarket.
"The same with blazers – instead of badge, which they could sew on, they have to buy the embroidered blazer, and even some schools are insisting on socks which have the embroidered logo of the school.
"This is where I think the government should update its guidance and say there should be a limit on how much a school's uniform costs – there should be cap."
She said such a move would prompt school leaders to think about whether they were asking parents to pay excessive costs.
Lord Agnew said: “I am a practical sort of person and we need to tell these schools not to be so ridiculous, frankly. I am happy to amend the guidance. It's just mindless bureaucracy on the part of these schools."
Both the education and work and pensions select committees held a joint session on school-holiday poverty today.