I’ve had a huge number of parents, teachers and others contacting me over the summer wanting an update on my Private Members Bill, which seeks to make school uniforms more affordable for all families.
For the last few years, the rising costs of school uniforms and the costs of the school day have made headlines every August as parents prepare for the new school year. This year, of course, many families are facing a very uncertain financial future because of the pandemic, and my inbox is full of emails from parents all over the country, worried about the cost of sending their children back to school after many months away.
Firstly, let me give a bit of background about what the Bill actually hopes to achieve. The bill is actually very short, although its formal title is very long: it’s the Education (Guidance about Costs of School Uniforms) Bill.
There is already good guidance in place for schools regarding school uniforms, including the cost aspect. However, it isn’t statutory, which means schools aren’t legally obligated to follow it. My Bill, if passed, would quite simply mean the Secretary of State for Education has to create new statutory legislation on the cost of school uniforms in England. I’ve been working with the Schools Minister on what this guidance would include.
The Bill has wide support. I’ve been working mainly with the Children’s Society on the campaign – you can read their latest ‘Wrong Blazer’ report here, but a huge number of charities, unions, and school uniform suppliers have been vocal about their enthusiasm for the Bill. It was also co-sponsored by MPs from three different parties. Just after I announced the topic of my Bill, the Government announced they would be supporting it.
The pandemic did also impact the progress of the Bill. It seems a very long time ago now, but it passed its first major hurdle back on the 13th March when its second reading took place. Many MPs from different parties showed up to speak about what the Bill would mean for their constituents, and about their own experiences with education and costs. You can read the debate here.
Ten days later, the lockdown was announced. As in workplaces across the country, the Houses of Parliament rushed to adapt to a new way of working in order to carry out its democratic duty. Normally, after a successful second reading, a Bill progresses to the committee stage, where a smaller number of MPs hash out the details of the legislation, ready for it to come back on the floor of the House to be discussed further.
Because of Covid, Bill committees have only just started meeting again and I am very hopeful that progress on my Bill will continue shortly. Although progress has slowed, the progress of a Bill in Parliament does normally take quite a few months, and it has always been my aim to have the legislation in place for the 2021/2022 school year.
Many people have asked me what they can do to help the progress of the Bill. The best thing you can do is contact your own MP (find them here), talk to them about your experiences with the cost of school uniform, and ask them if they plan to support my Bill. The more support from across the country, and the more MPs across England support it, the better the chance my Bill has of becoming a Law.