The Competition Commission has again called on parents and schools to observe its circular, titled Procurement of School Uniform and other Learning-Related Goods and Services, published by the commission and the Department of Basic Education towards the end of 2020. The circular provides guidance for schools and other stakeholders on best practices relating to all procurement by schools.
The circular is primarily aimed at curbing anti-competitive procurement practices at schools and again emphasises the principles of the School Uniform Guidelines published in May 2015 by the department.
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Now, in the era of Covid-19, the commission has expanded its scope to other learning-related goods and services schools require learners to buy, such as face masks, hand sanitisers and technological gadgets for e-learning.
According to the commission, its interventions in the procurement of school uniforms over the years got some positive results when some schools and retailers changed their behaviour. The commission says it is encouraged by the progress made in making school uniforms more affordable and accessible.
School uniform guidelines
The guidelines include:
- Uniforms should be as generic as possible to ensure that it can be bought from more than one supplier
- Schools should limit exclusivity to items regarded as necessary to buy from pre-selected suppliers
- Schools should use a competitive bidding process when they appoint suppliers for school uniforms and learning-related items
- Agreements with suppliers must be for a limited time that is not excessively long
- Schools must not force parents to buy new or additional school uniform items for clothes rotation during the Covid-19 pandemic, but rather consider alternatives, such as allowing learners to wear civilian clothes on some days.
Schools that don’t comply
The commission says it will take action against schools that fail to comply with the Competition Act and the School Uniform Guidelines, particularly as bringing down the cost of learning-related items remains the priority.
Working with stakeholders
The commission also identified school governing body associations as key stakeholders to partner with. The Federation of Governing Bodies of South Africa (Fedsas), which represents public schools and the Independent Schools of Southern Africa (Isasa), made a public pledge in 2018 to adhere to the school uniform guidelines to curb anti-competitive behaviour at schools.
Fedsas has also started discussions during 2020 on developing memoranda of understanding with the commission.
School uniforms are in the hands of parents
Parents can do something about school uniforms that eat up their budgets. They are the ones that vote for the school governing bodies that decide on the school uniforms.
Parents should attend the meetings of the governing bodies and ask whether the school has an agreement with a specific supplier and how many suppliers are used. They should also ask if the agreement was completed after an open tender process, as well as how long the agreement is for.
Looking at alternatives
Parents can also look at alternatives, such as generic short pants in summer and long pants in winter with short sleeve or long sleeve T-shirts, or denims in winter that are warmer and cheaper, with sandals for summer and sneakers for winter.
Schools that are worried that children will show up in fashion outfits, can make rules, such as no frayed denims, no high heel sandals or only white sneakers. It is then up to parents where they buy these items.
The commission has also received complaints about requirements for other goods, such as school-branded or brand-specific Covid-19-related items, such as face masks, hand sanitisers, technological gadgets for e-learning purposes and other items, which are also more expensive that generic items.
This again interferes with parents’ right to choose where to buy these items at a better price and therefore it published the circular with the department.