Criticism | 

Parents hit out after Belfast school advises families not to buy ‘cheap clothing’

A mother said it is “another form of finger-pointing at the poorest and lowest paid”

Belfast Royal Academy. Credit: Liam McBurney/ PA

Garrett HarganBelfast Telegraph

A mother has criticised a Belfast grammar school for telling parents to avoid buying clothes from unethical shops – saying those struggling on lower incomes are being made to feel “guilty”.

A letter was sent to parents, first reported by the BBC’s Nolan programme and seen by the Belfast Telegraph, informing them of a uniform sale of second-hand clothing being held by volunteers.

The school principal Hilary Woods advised parents the school does not want parents to buy clothing from the high street because of concerns around ethics and child labour.

Mrs Woods said: “We do not feel it is appropriate to condone the purchase of cheap items of clothing from high-street retailers who do not conform to ethical trading standards in terms of child-labour.

"Poor quality sports clothing will not stand up to the rigours of contact sport and will need to be replaced much more frequently, which is a false economy,” she said. Specific retailers were not named by the school.

The school is said to have eight official suppliers.

The Belfast Royal Academy is the oldest school in the city of Belfast, Northern Ireland, dating back to 1786.

Questions were raised on the Nolan programme about whether the same principles apply to teachers working at the school.

The Friends of the Academy (FOTA) uniform recycling scheme has been set up so that parents who are finding it difficult to buy a new uniform can avail of “excellent quality items” of uniform.

From approved suppliers, for example, a hoodie can cost £50, a junior hoodie between £37-£44 and a smock £40, according to the BBC’s Nolan Show.

The FOTA scheme sells a boy’s school uniform and PE kit for a total of £50. This includes tracksuit bottoms, PE hoody, 3 shirts and 2 pairs of trousers.

The total for a girl’s school uniform from FOTA is £45 which includes 3 shirts, tracksuit bottoms and PE hoody, a letter from the school shows.

Speaking on the Nolan show, a mother said it is “another form of finger-pointing at the poorest and lowest paid”.

She added: “People that are living on the lowest income, we are the biggest environmental savers. We don’t waste food, we recycle everything, here’s a school saying to parents that potentially just can’t afford the uniforms.”

Addressing the uniform recycling scheme, she said children on a low income should be entitled to buy a new uniform, adding that it feels like those on lower incomes are being told they “should be grateful” for what’s being given to them.

The parent questioned whether the public know the source of most clothing. Ultimately she has to put clothes on her back, she said – adding: “I can’t afford what other people can afford.”

“It’s making us feel guilty for where we spend our money, we’re being told day in and day out how to cook. Now we’re being told how to buy clothes,” she added.

“It’s like being told not to buy Russian coal. Putting heat in our homes is more important to us than where the coal came from.”

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said parents are best placed to make ethical decisions for their children and all parents would take step to ensure uniforms are in line with the requirements of the school.

Reflecting on his own upbringing with four siblings, the west Tyrone MLA said he’s aware of how difficult it is for parents to clothe school-age children and thought it was inappropriate for anyone to bring into question the quality of clothing provided on the high street.

The letter goes on to say: “We know how grateful many families are that FOTA provide this valuable service and I would like to thank members of the FOTA Committee who give up so much time to sort the items for the sale and to run the sale.

"I am also extremely grateful to those families who have donated items of uniform, PE and games kit and equipment including school bags.

"If you have any items to donate, please leave them at the School Office.”

In a statement to the Belfast Telegraph, the BRA said: “The letter sent to parents is quite clearly about the school and a group of volunteers trying to help pupils, parents and the planet by providing excellent quality pre-loved uniform at a much reduced cost that would otherwise go to landfill and we do not believe that this requires any further comment.”

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