It's nearly back to school, and that means a flood of expenses that could very well induce a cold sweat, and that's only when talking school stationery, transport and lunches.
One mom to a Grade 1 pupil recently shared with Parent24 that what's most worrying to her about the back to school budget is her daughter's school uniform.
School uniform is very expensive, my daughter started Grade 1 last year, and I must say the uniform prices are ridiculous. A shirt costs R209 and just for 2 shirts and 2 pairs of ankle socks a parent pays just above R500. We have not included the skirts, winter uniform, jersey and sports clothes so one can pay over R4000 - R5000 just for the uniform. Pity you can't buy the uniform anywhere else except from the school's website as it's been monopolised.
Letters like these fill the Parent24 inbox constantly, but with some schools creating rules deeming it unacceptable for parents to purchase uniforms from unofficial stockists, there was not much we could do by way of advice.
Confirming the feedback we were receiving from our readers, we found that the cost of school items from approved stockists are often three times more expensive than when purchased from more affordable retailers. And in some instances, even high-end retailers were found to offer cost-effective options on school items in comparison with school-appointed stockists.
Recently, the Competition Commission of South Africa (CompComSA) added an authoritative voice to the topic, taking to Twitter to share an official press release regarding the high prices of school uniforms.
In it, the government-appointed body revealed that it would be continuing its efforts to make uniforms more affordable across the country in both private and public schools.
Since 2019, CompComSA says it has engaged with a number of "stakeholders including private schools, suppliers, governing bodies and the government" in it's bid to monitor exorbitant prices.
Parent24 reached out to the commission's Head of Communications, Sipho Ngwema, who told us that the frequency of complaints from parents regarding the high price of uniforms is what motivated the organisation's efforts in taking on the topic.
"We received complaints from parents about schools coercing them to buy from certain exclusively selected suppliers and at a very high cost," he said, adding that while more needs to be done, the response from stakeholders has been positive so far.
"There has been remarkable cooperation from schools, parents, governing bodies and some suppliers. We reached a consent agreement with some schools, and we are working with national governing bodies and schools organisations."
'Monitoring and oversight capacity' on the rise
With the support and direction of the Department of Basic Education, and in collaboration with national organisations like the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) and the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA), the commission has devised a set of proposed guidelines to ensure that the business of selling school uniforms is not exploited.
"Firstly, we entered into an MOU with parent-school bodies. Secondly, we are engaged with schools to build monitoring and oversight capacity in order for schools to be able to help enforce the guidelines as issued by the DBE," explained Ngwema.
With the guidelines in place CompComSA hopes to ensure that all South African "school uniform become predominantly generic," and that uniform bearing school badges be "restricted to a few items like badges and ties."
To establish fairness around supply contracts, Ngwema says that CompComSA proposes these "are awarded to more than one supplier" and "limited to specific short timeframes."
Transparency regarding the tender processes of awarding supply contracts, Ngwema says, is another top priority for CompComSA.
'School uniform should be as generic as possible'
As supplied by Ngwema, the DBE and CompComSA school uniform guidelines are as follows:
- School uniform become predominantly generic;
- Exclusive items are restricted to a few items like badges and ties.
- Supply contracts for uniform are awarded through open and transparent tender processes and constant intervals.
- Contracts are awarded to more than one supplier.
- Contracts are limited to specific short timeframes.
What you can do to support CompComSA’s effortsNgwema assures that CompComSA's is set on intensifying its efforts this year, this includes inquests and litigation.
"We shall continue with our engagement with schools and suppliers to make sure that they are in line with the Competition Act. We will also continue to investigate and prosecute those who remain defiant."
Ngwema is also urging parents to become more proactive.
"Parents must continue to engage their governing bodies and insist that they adhere to the guidelines. They must make sure that the contracts are in the best interest of the parents. If supplies and schools continue to be defiant, they must contact the Competition Commission."
What's been your experience with uniform prices?
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