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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 18 December 2018

UAE parents angry at rising cost of 'poor quality' school uniforms

'Why do the trousers need a school logo?' Families frustrated at demands to buy at approved retail outlets with punitive costs

Stephanie Hughes with daughters Florence, 4, and Yvie, 2. Parents are facing rising costs to buy school uniforms. Victor Besa / The National
Stephanie Hughes with daughters Florence, 4, and Yvie, 2. Parents are facing rising costs to buy school uniforms. Victor Besa / The National

Parents have spoken of their frustration at the rising cost of uniforms – and criticised schools that demand families buy at approved retail outlets at a cost of thousands of dirhams per child.

Families said it was not unusual to have to spend thousands of dihrams on clothing, bags and gym kit for their sons and daughters per year or even per term.

Across the board there was criticism of poor quality polyester goods including trousers and skirts that leave children sweating in the persistent heat.

And while many schools appear sensitive to the issue, some parents insisted others needed to do far more given the already significant expense of school fees.

“Uniforms are very expensive and sometimes they’re really poor quality,” said mother-of-two Clementina Kongslund, a blogger at DubaiMums.com, who shops for uniforms second-hand to keep costs down.

“Children grow up quickly at this age and they’re obviously active, so uniforms either get damaged or outgrown fast.

“Some schools sell the uniforms in-house or have their own shop, while others use special stores that sell the uniforms.

“And every school has its own clothing, so it's hard to find everything in supermarkets.”

nw2908 uniforms
Ramon Penas / The National

When the new school term begins on Sunday, more than 580,000 children will head back to the classroom throughout the Emirates.

At Threads, a uniform retail store with outlets across the UAE, pinstripe trousers required for pupils at Dubai American Academy sell for Dh121, a pinstripe skirt costs Dh89 and a school bag is Dh79. In addition, a PE kit sells for about Dh150 and a swimsuit Dh125.

Meanwhile at Zaks, a retail outlet in Abu Dhabi, parents can buy uniforms for Nord Anglia School Dubai and British International School in Abu Dhabi.

A pair of trousers and a shirt there – both with school logos – can set parents back by about Dh215. A separate sports bag costs Dh173.

Amal Al Maamari, an Emirati mother living in Abu Dhabi, said she spends about Dh3,600 on uniforms for her three daughters, who are all due to start at Al Mamoura Academy in Abu Dhabi.

A pair of primary school uniforms each for her two youngest daughters costs around Dh2,000, while a pair of secondary school uniforms for her eldest, aged 13, cost Dh1,600.

She said buying the clothes at a store of her choosing was not an option as matching the required colours of the school uniform proved too difficult.

“In the UK you can usually find uniforms at any shop so you can save money that way,” she said.

“But here the colour of uniforms is often specific to schools. Some also insist you get their official school bags as well.

“Availability and pricing is a problem, too. I had to go to the store three times as they didn’t have all the sizes. And why do the trousers need a school logo?”

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Read more on this story:

Dh1,000 for a four-year-old pupil: private schools' uniform policy leaves parents out of pocket

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Another frustrated father-of-two told The National how it costs him up to Dh1,700 per child to ensure both daughters had the right uniform for Dubai’s Nord Anglia International School.

He questioned whether school authorities really appreciated the difficulties parents faced when it came to buying clothing for their children.

The parent, who did not want to be named, said: “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to pick up items like plain white shirts, trousers and skirts from any store.

“Instead they make you buy specially embroidered white shirts at Dh84. Also, it seems to me that charging Dh395 for a blazer for a six-year-old is just excessive.”

But the cost of kitting out his six and eight-year-olds did not stop there, the 44-year-old said.

“Having to buy a certain PE kit is taking it way too far,” he said. “I could buy a couple of Adidas shirts in the mall for the cost of what we pay for the official school PE shirt [Dh132].

“I also don’t know why they have to all wear the same PE kit just to run around in a field. I do wonder if schools realise how expensive it is to live in Dubai.

“The only thing we don’t have to buy from the shop that is affiliated with the school are shoes.

“But even they are expensive, if I want to buy my daughter a good pair of Clark’s shoes it costs around 55 per cent more here than it does in the UK.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 29 MAY 2018. Brendon Fulton, The Principal of Dubai British School in Emirates Hills. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Anam Rizvi. Section: National.
Brendon Fulton, principal of Dubai British School. Antonie Robertson / The National

Sheela Menon, the principal of Ambassador School in Dubai, said she was well aware some parents felt frustrated by the cost of uniforms.

She said staff had taken the issue on board, and where possible had acted on parents’ feedback.

“If we let parents buy uniforms from different stores we will have pupils coming in wearing multiple shades of clothing with differing logos.

“We keep taking parents’ feedback and incorporate it where we can.”

Nilay Ozral, the chief executive of Aldar Academies, said its schools had branded uniforms, which required a designated supplier.

“We do our best to negotiate and bring the price down,” she said.

“Uniform prices are approved by the Department of Education and Knowledge and they have to approve any hike in prices.”

Dubai British School in Emirates Hills recommends parents buy uniforms from a specific supplier but also allows them to shop elsewhere should they wish.

Brendon Fulton, the principal, said: “We’re confident our supplier provides a superior product at a very competitive price and so most of our parents buy all their items directly from them.

“Inevitably there are some complaints, which we do empathise with, given the rising cost of living.”