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Families choosing between eating and buying school uniforms, according to new research

7 February, 2024

Interview by Jessica Hopkins, adapted by Kate Walker

Lecturer in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Dr Johanna Reidy, is calling on the government to do something about the increasing cost of school uniforms.

With the school year starting, families have expressed concern over the high cost of compulsory school uniforms.

New research has shown that even at one higher socio-economic school, 20% of its students were worried about whether their parents could afford their uniform.

Public Health Lecturer at the University of Otago, Dr Johanna Reidy, told 95bFM’s The Wire that families across Aotearoa are struggling during the cost of living crisis.

“Families are making choices between eating and school uniforms or going to school at all, because they can't kit their children out in the full and correct uniform.”

Reidy says many students in this situation avoid coming to school and rely on their parents to speak up.

“Unless there's a good relationship with students, or a way that families can explain that doesn't attract too much shame, that uniform is a cost problem, you'll have students not attending or not paying attention because they look different than other students.”

While some factors contributing to rising uniform prices are out of their control, Reidy says school boards should consider the cost of the garments they require students to wear.

Despite issues with their cost, she agrees uniforms can benefit students.

“We have school uniforms to provide an affordable piece of clothing that removes the worst of competitive dressing, ensure safety on campus, and identify intruders on school grounds.”

In some cases, schools and families have been able to take out loans or receive money from charity to pay for uniforms.

But Reidy wants the government to step in so this funding can be used for other purposes.

She says schools should not have to worry about what students are wearing and instead be able to focus on children's learning.

“Every year in January we wring our hands about this problem but nothing really happens to solve it.”

“It's time for the Ministry of Education or the government to come up with some legislation as they have in the UK, saying that schools must give attention to the cost of uniforms but also uniform policies.”

Listen to the full interview

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air