EDUCATION Secretary Angela Constance is to order officials to “look again” at school uniform policy after campaigners urged her to help disadvantaged children.

Deborah Shepherd and Sandra Douglas, whose growing chain of Back to School Banks provides uniforms and supplies to pupils across the country, urged Constance to take action after grassroots groups provided socks, shoes, blazers and gym kits to more than 100 youngsters.

The pair estimate it costs £100-150 to kit out a child for school but say requirements by some schools for items such as woollen blazers costing £120 or yellow socks (£10 for a pair) mean this varies wildly.

Last month they wrote to Constance asking for all Scottish schools to adopt a black-and-white uniform to help less well-off families clothe their children for school.

The pair suggested schools could use sew-on badges and coloured ties to differentiate themselves from others, stating: “We realise that schools have a tradition in many places and that they value this.

“Our proposal to you is that tradition should not be upheld where it is for sentimental reasons. While some may call for the abolition of uniforms altogether, we are simply calling for a levelling of the playing field to ensure every child gets a fair chance.

“We will doubtless still have to help out the poorest families with the Back to School Bank, but you can help us do that by changing the rules to make every uniform standardised.”

Now Constance has pledged to review uniform policy and examine the provision of school uniform grants by local authorities.

The funding varies from £20 to £110 depending on the council area, but few deliver the Scottish Government’s recommended level of £70 and payments have fallen from about £9 million in 2005 to £7.6m in the last school year.

Back to School Banks collect donations of new school clothing and stationery to distribute to children referred to the banks by social workers, doctors and teachers.

Each works independently in a local community based on the model established by Douglas and Shepherd in East Renfrewshire and East Dunbartonshire.

In a letter seen by The National, Constance praised the work of the banks but conceded they are not a “long-term solution”, stating: “Too many families now struggle to meet the cost of kitting out their children for school. There are considerable disparities in what different local authorities pay in terms of school clothing grants.

“I want to reassure you of how much I understand and appreciate just how important an issue this is. I grew up in a lone parent family and money was never plentiful. I received free school meals and can still recall the stigma of feeling different as a ‘green ticket’ child.

“The experience of growing up poor and being clothed, treated or otherwise singled out by your peers is a long-lasting one. I absolutely get why this issue matters now and indeed, as we face the ongoing impact of Westminster austerity and welfare reform measures, is likely to rise rather than diminish. I have, therefore, asked Government officials to look again at national and local policy and practice on school clothing.”

Constance added: “Given our commitment to local flexibility and autonomy on most areas of education life, we would not wish to legislate to create one school uniform for all areas. But it would be good to have discussions with our partners in Cosla about what more we and they can do to simplify policy and practice on uniform and I will undertake to discuss this with Cosla’s leader on children and young people Cllr Stephanie Primrose when we next meet. I have also asked officials to look at options around the grants levels and process to see if there is more that can be done in this area. This will prove very tricky within the current funding climate, with considerable cuts coming from the UK Government to the Scottish block grant. But I am committing to having a very close look to see if there’s more that can be done.”

School uniform banks are now preparing to launch a winter clothing drive to help families.

Pledging to find out if the Scottish Government can help, Constance said: “I am mindful that the mornings are already colder and that winter will soon be upon us.

“We both know that there will be many children with little choice but to shiver their way through these months in inappropriate coats and shoes.

“It would be good if we could do something more to give more children something warmer to wear. I would be more than willing to support any such activity in any way that seems useful, in a personal and ministerial capacity.”

Reacting to the letter, Shepherd said: “She totally grasped what is going on and all we can do is thank her for her support. It’s really important the Scottish Government looks at this.“I suspect Cosla will come back and say there’s no budget for it ... My advice to Cosla is cut down on the biscuits at the meetings that discuss these things and give it to the kids.”

A Cosla spokesman said children’s spokesperson Primrose is “always open to discussion on education matters” and that Cosla “would certainly be with the Cabinet Secretary on this matter”.