Derry schools, Executive urged to help with high uniform costs as grants ‘don’t go far enough’

Derry & Strabane Council are to write to schools and the NI Executive urging them to do more to lesson the burden on families struggling to cope with the cost of school uniforms.

By Gillian Anderson
Wednesday, 3rd August 2022, 11:39 am

Sinn Féin councillor Emma McGinley tabled a motion calling for a cross-cutting Executive strategy to reduce this cost and provide appropriate support to school children and their families.

A further amendment from People Before Profit Colr. Maeve O’Neill called for council to write to schools in the council area asking them to review their school uniform policy with a view to reducing costs to parents.

A 20% increase in the school uniform grant to help support low income families,  which was announced by Education Minister Michelle McIlveen last month was welcomed; however, all councillors felt it didn’t go far enough.

Sinn Féin Councillor Emma McGinley.

Addressing the chamber, Colr. McGinley said: “By no means is this a new issue, however as we are trying to navigate the living crisis with workers and families already struggling with increased costs for fuel, electricity and food, paying out huge amounts for school uniforms will only add increased pressure for those families.

“There are families in our district who aren’t eligible for the school uniform grant so this additional pressure in hard times is just too much.

“It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that schools have been proactive in offering school uniform recycling schemes and more recently we have seen similar initiatives coming through community groups and other services. Recycling school uniforms in good condition for families that are struggling is a lifeline and these initiatives are seeing parents who wouldn’t normally be ones to ask for help seeking help and I think that is indicative of the crisis we are facing.

“I’ve been looking at school uniform prices and it’s fair to say that when a child goes from primary school to secondary school that the costs increase massively which places additional pressure on families especially those with more than one child.

The cost of new school uniforms is proving a struggle for many families, representatives warned.

“The reality of this situation is that there is a need for a cross-cutting Executive strategy to tackle this issue which requires the relevant Ministers to work together on a cross-departmental basis to support families not just in our district but right across the North.”

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The amendment called for council to write to all the schools in the district asking them to review their school uniform policy with a view to reducing the cost of uniforms by creating a  more generic uniform and having more leniency with regards to school shoes. The substantive motion passed unanimously.

SDLP councillor Shauna Cusack called the cost effectiveness of school uniforms, especially for post primary ‘questionable’.

She said: “I have spoken to many parents and the cost of kitting out not one but many children is a cause of great concern and financial strain for them. The basic uniform and PE kit is averaging at around £300 and that’s just for one child and before any extras.”

Alliance Councillor Rachael Ferguson agreed that this was an issue ‘that needed to be addressed years ago’, with Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly and DUP Alderman Maurice Devenney supporting both the motion and amendment.

Sinn Féin councillor Michaela Boyle added: “I believe we should have some sort of uniform but in terms of the cost it’s time now the schools got together themselves and look at ways to alleviate the costs to parents.”

A recent Irish League of Credit Unions survey indicated that more parents than ever (72%) are saying back to school costs are a financial burden they can ill afford.

By Gillian Anderson

Local Democracy Reporter