Why are crested uniforms still the norm at so many primary and secondary schools?

Jen Hogan: Schools should do more to keep back-to-school costs to a minimum

And so this is mid-August, and what have you done?

Nowhere near as much as I should have, is the cry from this house. But I just don’t mean creating the magical memories social media tells me I should have made over the washout that was Summer 2023. You get 18 summers with your kids, they say, and very little of this one was Instagram-worthy. No. Worse than that. I am not yet organised for back to school either.

And really, I have no excuse. After all, the uniforms and back-to-school necessities were in the shops well before the children finished school for the summer. It’s been Halloween since July, if those same shops are to be believed, but there’s not a Twistable or lunch box labelled here yet.

It will get done, because it always does. But I will be near demented by the time that it is. And considerably lighter of pocket. As will most parents. Because while the introduction of free primary schoolbooks was a welcome relief for many of us, it barely scratches the surface of back-to-school costs.


Particularly if you have children in secondary school.

In 2017 a departmental circular was issued requesting that school authorities introduce measures that would help to reduce the financial pressure parents face. Suggestions included “all elements of a school uniform should be purchasable from various stores”, “only iron-on or sew-on crests should be used” and “wherever possible, generic rather than branded items should be specified (eg uniform, clothing, IT tablets, sports equipment etc)”.

It’s six years since the circular was issued, and little appears to have changed, with plenty of parents reporting that crested uniforms are still the norm at their primary and secondary schools – and with that, an often significantly greater cost. “Sure, they’ll last longer and are of a higher quality”, we try to console ourselves, blocking out the annoying little voice in our heads that tries to remind us, if they haven’t lost at least one jumper, tie, tracksuit top – delete as appropriate – within the first few weeks, it’ll be a Christmas miracle.

But even if that miracle were to materialise, those pesky kids keep growing and refuse to stay fitting into those expensive uniform items.

Alas, uniforms are not the only expense parents have to worry about, and those costs keep mounting as children go to secondary school. Especially if your child’s school is an iPad school.

Yes, iPads specifically, not whichever device suits your pocket best. Add in the continuing crazy costs of hard copy schoolbooks, also needed, and their latest edition updates, and the total financial ask can be eye-watering. Let’s park the waste of it all too, while the world burns, shall we?

Of course back-to-school costs aren’t something new. Year in, year out reports issue and parents worry how they’ll manage it all. But little changes. Yes, the provision of free primary schoolbooks is a welcome start, but if we can’t enforce measures from a Department of Education circular that was issued six years ago, what are we at, at all?

According to a recent Barnardo’s report, one in four secondary parents say they have to take out a loan or borrow from friends in order to meet back-to-school costs. While more than two thirds of secondary parents and half of primary parents are concerned about covering the cost of back to school.

One mother with four school-going children told me she was “sick with worry” about the costs and didn’t know how she’d manage them. Another parent said she’d “no idea how we’ll do it”. Another said trying to manage was “tough going”.

But with solutions to reducing costs offered in the 2017 circular, why are we still having the same perennial conversations? Why are parents still struggling? And why don’t parents typically feel comfortable raising questions about the recommendations with schools who haven’t implemented them?

Perhaps it’s the teacher/student psyche that never quite leaves us. Maybe it’s the dread of being considered “that parent:the one who complains”. Or maybe it’s just embarrassment.

Some who in got in touch with me said there were other things to be raised as a priority such as seeking supports for children with additional needs, or opting out of religion. You have to “pick your battles”, as one parent described it. And there were those who said they did but “they aren’t for turning”.

But schools are a community and everyone should feel part of it. We are all on the same side. We all want what’s best for children, which most people would agree probably includes not inflicting crippling costs on families. And, while we’re at it, homework.