RIP-OFF

Inside shady dealings in school uniform sales

Outfitters, schools seal exclusive deals to sell uniforms at above-market prices to hundreds or thousands of learners.

In Summary

• In some schools, learners have been compelled to buy new uniforms even if their old uniforms are in good condition.

• The rule: The school buys the uniform from their selected suppliers on the students’  behalf, doing them a 'favour'.

Parents buy school uniforms.
BARGAIN Parents buy school uniforms.
Image: FILE

Schools are compelling parents to exclusively purchase uniforms from their dictated suppliers - typically at above-market prices.

That requirement is improper, says the Competition Authority of Kenya that on Monday warned schools against the practice and told parents to complain to their website.

Schools that have deals with outfitters require parents to only buy uniforms from their favoured outfitters for hundreds or thousands of learners.

In the latest case, the Star has learnt a school (name withheld) has forced parents to acquire at least five masks that are branded with the school logo as a requirement for their learners to go back to class.

"Each mask costs Sh100," one parent told the Star, "so each parent had to part with Sh500 to meet the requirement of five masks."

The exploitation of parents through special requirements and mark-ups is a long-standing racket between school heads and outfitters.

Sometimes school heads themselves are in the business of supplying uniforms.

In some schools, learners have been compelled to buy new uniforms for learners when they are in Form 3, even if their old uniforms are in good condition.

There is no option for the parents/guardians/students to buy the uniforms from their own preferred suppliers.

The rule has been and still is: the school buys the uniforms from their selected suppliers on the students' behalf, doing them a 'favour' and making outfitting easier.

A spot-check by the Star shows that in some schools, the average price of secondary school boy's trousers was Sh1,200 compared with Sh800 at randomly visited outfitters in Nairobi.

For secondary school girls' skirts, the equivalent figures were Sh1,500 from the school's outfitter and Sh700 in the open market, selected at random by the Star.

Many schools regard wearing uniforms as a cornerstone of good behaviour, egalitarianism and projecting a positive image to communities.

However, some stakeholders argue schools could achieve a consistent 'look' without tying parents to a single supplier.

Nicholas Maiyo, the Kenya Parents Association chairman, says this has been a longstanding problem in most schools in which parents have become cash cows for schools and outfitters.

“Simple economics dictates that when an item is bought in bulk the price per unit should be discounted, but that is not what parents encounter when they're sent to these designated outlets,” Maiyo said.

Instead, he said,  the exclusive outfitters are far more expensive compared to other options available.

On Monday, the Competition Authority for a second time put on notice public and private schools that have been 'recommending' specific outlets for parents to buy school uniforms.

In a notice to the public, the authority's director general said some schools specify in their admission letters, and school joining instructions where parents should purchase uniforms without any benefit to the consumers.

The director general has cautioned school principals and administrators against the improper conduct, saying parents are free to buy uniforms from their preferred outlets.

“Parents should be free to buy uniforms from their preferred shops/outlets as long as school uniform bought meets the colour, shade, thread count and design as prescribed by the respective schools,” CAK director general Francis W. Kariuki said.

Members of the public affected by the conduct have been asked to contact the authority through [email protected]

Section 7 of the authority’s Act, No12 of 2010 (The Act) enables the authority to enhance the welfare of Kenyans, promote and protect effective competition  and prevent misleading market conduct.

Last year, leaders from Makueni and Machakos counties urged the Ministry of Education to bar school principals from forcing students to buy uniforms at the school to join Form 1.

The leaders said the trend was undermining 100 per cent transition to secondary school.

Uniforms from the schools were more expensive with some people benefitting from the difference between the school outfitter's price and the market price.

(Edited by V. Graham)