Edinburgh children missing school due to uniform ‘shame’ charity boss warns

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Many Edinburgh families are in “dire straits” over school uniforms

An increasing number of children across Edinburgh are missing school because families can’t afford to pay for uniforms, the head of a local charity service has warned, amid calls to make applying for clothing grants simpler.

Many families are in “dire straits” as school uniform has become “divisive and a cause of enormous stress, shame and exclusion,” councillors were told.

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Julia Grindley, who runs Edinburgh School Uniform Bank, said children are “missing school because they have no shoes” and parents are keeping them away “because they are ashamed”.

Julia Grindley addressed councillors in the City Chambers. Image: City of Edinburgh Council.Julia Grindley addressed councillors in the City Chambers. Image: City of Edinburgh Council.
Julia Grindley addressed councillors in the City Chambers. Image: City of Edinburgh Council.

Some who only have one set of school clothes are losing out on education as items aren’t drying in time for the next day, whilst children from struggling households “with just one towel” aren’t going in on swimming day, according to Ms Grindley.

She set up the charity in 2015 to catch those “falling through the cracks” but said the growing number of families in financial difficulty meant it now operates as a “mainstream service”.

In a deputation to a full council meeting on Thursday (September 29) she said school uniform policy in Edinburgh needed to be “re-examined in a holistic way with a focus on barriers to attendance and well-being”.

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She added: “There’s a lot of great work being done around attendance but we believe that issues around clothing need more attention.”

Edinburgh School Uniform Bank, which receives referrals from schools and social workers, has helped around 4,500 youngsters in the past year. Ms Grindley said feedback showed the service had “an enormous impact on attendance and inclusion, well-being and dignity”.

Families in receipt of certain benefits are eligible to claim a school clothing grant from the council – £120 for primary pupils and £150 for secondary – however concerns have been raised many “remain unaware of its existence”.

A motion tabled at the meeting this week by Labour councillor Katrina Faccenda said: “Families are failing to qualify for School Clothing Grants by as little as £20. Although we welcome the provision of free school meals for all P1-5 and would like to see this extended to all school children, there are some families who do not realise they still have to apply so they will receive their clothing grant and holiday payments.”

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It requested a report on opening the grant application process earlier in the year, making it more accessible and how the council can work with the School Uniform Bank to ensure enough items of clothing are being sent to schools where it’s needed.