Parents told to push for uniform sale competition

Parents have been told to use their power to persuade schools not to restrict the sale of uniforms to just one shop after the Competition Authority forced a manufacturer to supply a second retailer with one school’s uniform.

Parents told to push for uniform sale competition

Although this case centred on the maker, the authority says it found that many schools are still allowing one shop to exclusively supplying their uniforms.

Despite Department of Education interventions on the issue, dozens of complaints are received by the Competition Authority each year, prompting it to recommend a year ago that schools allow a number of retailers supply them.

In May, a retailer complained after it had approached a local second-level school in Dublin, pointing out that its appointment of a single approved retailer of its uniforms was at variance with the recommendations.

While the school agreed to appoint the retailer who complained as a second approved outlet for parents to buy the uniform, the manufacturer refused to supply the new retailer.

Having initially agreed to do so, the manufacturer received representations from the first approved retailer, leading to the refusal and the complaint to the Competition Authority.

It determined that the case raised competition law concerns and found that there was no impediment to prevent the manufacturer from supplying the retailer who complained. It agreed to do so and has filled the orders it had made for uniforms for the school in question, with the second retailer now offering slightly cheaper prices to families.

“It is clear from information gathered in the course of this investigation that many schools have a policy of appointing a single retailer of school uniforms,” a Competition Authority spokesperson said.

She said that, if a school does appoint a single retailer, the authority recommends they are chosen through a competitive tender and not on the basis of historic relationships.

“Ensuring the best value possible for hard-pressed parents and families is important, particularly at this expensive time of year,” she said.

The Department of Education required all 4,000 primary and second-level schools to ballot parents by Easter on uniform policies, including the question of suppliers.

The Joint Managerial Body, which represents almost 400 religious-owned secondary schools, said schools reviewed their uniform policies during the last school year, in line with the department circular with the view to ensuring best value possible for parents.

A Department of Education spokesperson said it was up to each individual school to survey parents, with a view that if most parents wanted a change to uniform policies, they could be implemented in time for the new school year. However, schools were not required to inform the department of the outcomes.

“A new parents’ and students’ charter will be published by Minister O’Sullivan during this school year, requiring all schools to involve parents in preparing school policies, including policies in relation to uniforms,” she said.

The Barnardos annual school costs survey this month found the cost of school clothing for a first-year student at second-level fell from €275 to €200 since last year.

It remained at €120 for fifth-class pupils, but rose from €95 to €110 for a child in senior infants.

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