Most schools unaware of uniform guidelines - Competition Commission

Cape Town – Most schools surveyed by the Competition Commission are unaware of the guidelines for school uniforms issued by the Department of Basic Education in 2015. 

This is according to an update issued by the commission last week. The competition authority is investigating a number of schools, school uniform manufacturers and suppliers for possible anti-competitive behaviour. Competition spokesperson Sipho Ngwema confirmed to Fin24 by email that an announcement following the investigation, which is in an advanced stage, will be made public in the coming weeks.

The investigation was launched in January 2017, in response to complaints from parents and school uniform suppliers.

“The parents complained that they could only purchase school uniform items for their children from a particular, specifically identified school uniform supplier without any other options being available to them. They consequently pay high prices for school uniform items,” the statement read.

“School uniform suppliers complained that some schools have entered into contracts with certain school uniform suppliers, giving these suppliers the exclusive right to sell the school uniform items of that particular school.”

This means that there are barriers for potential or new school uniform suppliers to enter the market, the commission highlighted.

In an effort to ensure the pricing of school uniforms is "reasonable and affordable", the commission has engaged with the education department, schools, school uniform suppliers and other stakeholders to change practices.

School uniform survey

The commission conducted a survey to determine if schools were aware of the uniform guidelines issued by the Department of Basic Education in May 2015. A total of 1 595 interviews were conducted with school governing bodies, principals and deputy principals from different schools.

Among the findings was that “a very significant proportion” of the schools in each province were not aware of the uniform guidelines.

These indicate that school uniforms should be as generic as possible, and obtainable from as many suppliers as possible. Schools should follow a competitive bidding process when appointing suppliers, make use of more than one supplier to give parents options, and agreements with suppliers should be of a limited duration.

Any exclusivity should be limited to items the school regards as necessary to obtain from pre-selected suppliers.

Other findings showed that the majority of schools did not have exclusive agreements with school uniform suppliers.

“Only a third of private schools (32%) and former Model C schools (33%) indicated having exclusive agreements with school uniform suppliers.” Of these schools, 87% of private schools and 53% of former Model C schools have just one exclusive agreement.

Most of these agreements were established a number of years ago, with one extending as far back as 1974. This means “the oldest contracts are more than 40 years in existence”, while new ones are still being entered into, the commission said.

“The survey found that most schools that had entered into exclusive agreements for the supply of school uniform had not done so through open tenders across all provinces.”

But in response to a question about competitive bidding to be introduced in future, over 95% of respondents were open to it.

Another finding shows that when it comes to sourcing uniforms from retailers or non-appointed third-party suppliers, a fifth of schools in KwaZulu-Natal do not allow school uniform items to be sourced from conventional retailers.

This is only 16 schools in the KwaZulu-Natal sample set, compared to figures in Gauteng where this is 94 schools, the commission noted.

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