The cost of grade 1 adds up for many parents

MBOMBELA – With schools reopening on Wednesday, many Lowveld parents are flocking to stationery stores to make sure their children are ready for the new academic year.

The required stationery for grade one pupils will cost about R1 270. This is according to a supplier in town, based on a stationery list supplied by a local public primary school. It includes exercise books, pencils, colour pencils, balls and other essentials needed throughout the year.

Another necessity for parents whose children start grade one this year is uniforms. Parents of children going to public schools can expect to pay between R1 900 to R2 080 for a uniform set from stores recommended by the school (see graph).

This, however, does not include a blazer, jersey or pullover. These can be purchased second-hand or new at the school. Certain non-exclusive items can be obtained elsewhere, which may potentially relieve parents financially.

The national Department of Basic Education has released a circular that aims to discourage the “single-supplier” approach for school uniforms. This comes after parents countrywide approached the Competition Commission complaining about the monopoly many uniform suppliers have through their partnerships with schools.

The commission has discovered that many of these partnerships, some of which have been taking place since the 1970s, exist within the former model C and private schools. These partnerships have resulted in parents paying thousands of rand for non-exclusive items they could get for less elsewhere.

“The guidelines also seek to reduce the cost of school uniforms, especially for the poor, such that the obtaining of a uniform does not deter attendance or participation in programmes,” the circular said.

It was further stated that the purpose of these guidelines is to ensure that practices related to school uniforms do not impede access to education in any way and do not infringe anyone’s constitutional rights. According to the commission’s spokesman, Sipho Ngwema, despite the commission and the department’s attempts to intervene, it has discovered that 30 per cent of the schools investigated were found to have exclusive partnerships with suppliers and continue to do so despite the circular.

According to Ngwema, they claim not to have been aware of it. The point and purpose of school uniforms, according to the circular, is to reflect a South African identity and not to be exclusionary. From the complaints received by the commission, parents are often forced to buy these from the preferred retailer due to the likelihood that they may have the school’s branding on them.

According to the circular, schools along with school governing bodies (SGB) should determine the uniform of their choice. However, the cost should not be a financial burden to parents. SGBs should take into account the circumstances of the school community, and be sensitive to them when designing a new school uniform. The Competition Commission is currently in the final stages of its research, which looks into the monopolies of uniform suppliers. It is expected to be released soon.

Bombi Mavundza

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