SCHOOLS have been urged to abandon expensive uniforms and take the pressure off cash-strapped parents.
National Consumer Agency chief executive Ann Fitzgerald has called on schools to reduce the need for compulsory crests on uniforms.
She said all schools need to be "sensitive to the monetary pressures" which "prescriptive school uniforms" place on parents.
However, Tanaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan has refused to direct the schools to avoid the type of uniform that restricts parents getting the best value.
School uniforms vary from one school to the next. Some have jumpers, tracksuits and jackets which all carry the school crest and can only be bought from one supplier.
Others have a more flexible attitude, accepting any brand of jumper or sportswear if it is in the agreed school colours.
The plea from the agency comes alongside more than 1,000 applications from parents every day to the Department of Social Protection for help with back to school costs.
The Department has already paid out close to €60m in allowances for uniforms and shoes but looks likely to exceed its €82m budget.
The Consumers Association of Ireland has called on the Minister to direct schools to allow cheaper uniforms.
The Minister insists that the issue remains a matter for each school board, while encouraging them to be conscious of the cost implications of dress codes.
Association chief executive Dermot Jewell says very often the boards seem to ignore the requests of parents and teacher groups, saying they have a reputation to uphold, but he would like to see a standardised system.
The National Parents Council-Primary says the restrictive uniform choice is becoming more of a difficulty for parents.
"There can be a big difference in price between a very specialised uniform from a specialist shop and buying generic items from a department store that crests can be sewn on to," says chief executive Aine Lynch.
Eileen Flynn, general secretary of the Catholic Primary School Management Association says while the issue is for school boards to decide, parents should be consulted.
Families have until the end of September to apply to the HSE for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance, but around 40,000 applicants are still waiting for replies.