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School uniforms survey 2012

The OFT's report on the supply of school uniforms in UK state schools was published in August 2012.

Following publication of the report, the OFT has been contacting schools to make them aware of the report findings.

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Main findings

  • The 2012 survey found that almost three-quarters of state schools (74 per cent) continue to place restrictions on where uniforms can be bought. 
  • Comparisions were made between prices for uniforms only available from a single outlet (either a single retailer or the school itself) with the prices for generic versions available locally. Supermarkets were found to be  the cheapest source of all. For example, the price for a sweatshirt for secondary school boys from a single retailer arrangement was on average £12. An indicative price from a supermarket was £5. For secondary school girls' skirts, the equivalent figures were £15.40 and £5.
  • As a result of the restrictions, parents who are not able to shop around for uniform items are paying as much as £5 to £10 too much for many of these items. We estimate that for every £1 difference in price per item the total detriment to parents of school age children is £4.9 million each year for primary school children and £5.5 million for secondary school children. At a typical price difference of £5 per item, the total detriment would amount to £52 million each year across the two groups. [see note 1]
  • The most common reasons given for imposing restrictions were the desire to maintain quality and consistency. 
  • A number of schools (nine per cent of primary schools and 29 per cent of secondary schools) plan to review their arrangements in the near future.
  • In relation to competition for the market, the survey shows that just 38 per cent of all schools who restrict the availability of uniform items used a selection process when appointing that retailer (including 55 per cent of secondary schools). [see note 2]

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Background to the 2012 survey and summary of the research

The 2006 survey found that due to restrictions imposed by some schools, many UK parents had  limited choice on where to buy their children's uniforms. It concluded that where such restrictions existed, the uniform items in question were generally more expensive than where the items could be bought more freely.

The 2012 survey has collected up-to-date information on the arrangements schools make to sell their uniforms to determine if the 2006 findings were still valid. Specifically, the survey has assessed:

  • the extent of competition in the market: types of restrictive arrangements and how much they are used 
  • the extent of competition for the market: competition in setting up and maintaining agreements with retailers/suppliers
  • the impact of restrictive arrangements on the price of uniforms 
  • the reasons behind restrictive arrangements and the perceived benefits to schools of adopting them
  • the likelihood that the competitive situation will improve: the extent to which schools are planning to change or review their current arrangements.

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Conclusion and recommendation

There has been some progress since the last survey, but it is clear that there is still scope for schools to do more to promote competition in the sale of their uniforms.
Schools should give parents greater choice over where to buy uniform items. They should at least ensure that any single retailer status is awarded on the basis of competitive tendering. This will drive competition and bring down the prices that parents pay. With fewer restrictions, parents will have greater choice on where to buy uniform items and can shop around for the things they care about most, be that low prices, high quality or convenience.


note 1. In order to establish overall estimate of the detriment to parents, we have drawn together all the information provided by schools about which items of school uniform were compulsory, which items were in addition subject to restricted supply, and also factored in the numbers of pupils involved and the typical number of times these items are purchased each academic year.

note 2. By 'selection process' we mean that the school made a comparison of a range of retailers before choosing one.

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2006 market study details and report


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