/ Parenting, Shopping

Full marks for cheap school uniforms?

Primary school children playing in school yard

In our Which? Convo poll last year, 92% were convinced children should have to wear school uniforms. But the cost can be a real headache when kitting out the kids. Have you been tempted by low-cost uniforms?

Children aren’t the only ones who mightn’t be looking forward to the start of the new academic year. Parents will be adding up the back to school cost of new shoes, PE kit, book bags, pens and of course the new school uniform.

However, parents aren’t just keeping an eye on price. I’ve just been school uniform shopping for the first time and spent time standing in-store weighing up the quality and fit with how easy items are to launder.

Price does matter of course. I know it’s a false economy to buy cheaper clothes that won’t last long enough, but why should I pay more than I might need to?

The best and cheapest school uniforms

So we wanted to find out whether the low-cost uniforms in supermarkets and retailers (Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and BHS) were any good.

When our research team went shopping for primary school uniforms we were looking for the cheapest and worked our way single-mindedly through the racks to find the lowest priced items available that day. We then had an expert tailor blind-assess the uniforms’ quality. Many of the shops have other school uniform ranges, which our tailor didn’t assess.

Our tailor picked Asda’s uniforms as best for overall value (being cheap and good quality), with BHS’s uniform picked out as the best quality according to our tailor (though it was the most expensive). However, our tailor didn’t think M&S’s ‘outstanding value’ uniform lived up to its name – it was the second most expensive and our tailor rated it last in his assessment. Still, all the items were acceptable.

What to look out for with school uniforms

Although we had a tailor rate the quality of the items for our research, it’s not quite so easy to judge when out shopping with the family. Our tailor pointed out a few things you can keep an eye out for:

  • Stiff, rough fabric.
  • Nicely finished button holes or strong zips.
  • And hanging threads on seams which would be tempting for little fingers to pull!

Of course, getting the kids to try on the uniform will give the best idea of a fit. Though before heading off to the crowded changing rooms yet again, you could look for garments with fabrics that have a bit of ‘give’ or elasticated waistbands. Our tailor said that adjustable waistbands, or waistbands that let out as children grow, mark out garments as being that bit better.

Unless you have to buy items with the school badge on, there are lots of retailers offering general school uniforms. Most of them seem to offer deals or multi-buy offers and it can be hard to keep track of who’s offering what.

You can find some help in our back to school guide, but I’ve also been asking other parents what they’d recommend. That brings me back to my earlier question; what do you think of the low-cost uniforms in high street retailers and supermarkets? Would you recommend any?


Why have I been charged VAT on my child’s school uniform?

The basic rule on where VAT applies on children’s clothing is that to be zero-rated it has to be designed for, and suitable for, children up to the age of fourteen. School uniform is no different.

If the non-uniform clothes you buy for your children are zero-rated but the uniform is not, I suggest you ask the retailer to explain why that is.