School Uniform System Comes Under Fire

Do you really need a crest on a school uniform? Luke Luby examines the new proposals.

A proposal by Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn for schools to ask the opinions of parents on school uniforms has been warmly welcomed by parent and teacher groups throughout the country.

The proposal is set to tackle the annual costs incurred by parents of primary and secondary school students, and a questionnaire is currently being drawn up, with a view to having the issue settled by the next school year.

The current system in which schools issue uniforms – by specifying which suppliers that provide appropriate uniforms with the schools crest – has long been a bone of contention with parents, as these stores are seemingly more expensive that large retail stores.

Under the plan, parents will be asked whether or not they want school uniforms, and, if so, if they want the uniform from large retail chains, which would be cheaper, and whether they want the uniforms with a crest. So far, many parents have said that they would prefer a cheaper alternative to the uniform, without a crest, and that they would prefer the crest came in a form that it could be sewn into the uniform; something which would save money annually.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One, Minister Quinn has said that:

“I’m not proposing that school uniform policies should be changed to the point that additional costs would be added. This is really listening to parents and representatives of parents such as Barnados and St Vincent de Paul who have brought to my attention costs over which parents feel they have no control and are in many cases excessive.”

Minister Quinn has also said that he feels that parents have, in the past, not been heard loudly enough, even though they bear the annual costs of school uniforms, and other items related to sending children back to school.

The Irish Primary Principals’ Network has also weighed in, saying that while a crest is important, it doesn’t need to be on the uniform for it to be understood. The organisation also stated that, in their opinion, a monopoly on school uniforms was not a good idea.

Minister Quinn has also stated that empowering parents was one of the more effective ways in which to tackle back to school costs, and added that his department is currently working on a Parents Charter, something that he says will further strengthen the position of mothers and fathers in the system.

The children’s charity Barnardos has previously issued a report – focusing on the costs of sending children to school – earlier this year which showed that, on average, parents spend €95 on uniforms for a senior infant student, €120 for a fourth class student and €250 for a first year student, annually.

The Department of Education is set to issue a template questionnaire to schools by the end of this month, and schools will be expected to be balloted by the end of February.