A CALL for a major cash boost for families in poverty unable to equip their children for school has been made to Keighley councillors.

A town council meeting received a plan to spend tens of thousands of pounds on the town's neediest families, so they can afford school uniforms and other equipment vital for their children's education.

Citing a report into child poverty, the proposals put forward by Cllr Brian Morris, warn: "More and more parents are struggling to pay for their children's uniform, lunches and study equipment.

"Classrooms up and down the country are seeing a growing crisis, with the gulf between low and high income families starker than ever.

"The average cost per child in Keighley is £75 to clothe one state secondary school pupil with one new uniform.

"However, uniforms don't end with polo shirts, sweatshirts and trousers. Pupils need a school coat, indoor and outdoor shoes, PE kit, book bags and gym bags."

Cllr Morris said children whose parents can't these items can end up isolated from their peers, and easy targets for bullies. Councillors agreed to pass his recommendations to their finance and audit committee for scrutiny.

Commenting after the meeting, Cllr Morris explained the "Uniform Poverty" scheme, if approved, would only be for primary school children in Keighley parish claiming free school meals.

He said with just three local primary schools still to respond to enquiries, he had an estimate of 740 children who could be eligible.

And he said depending on average uniform costs, if this pupil number figure is accurate, the scheme would cost about £53,000 a year, which he argued was realistic and achievable.

Cllr Morris said to function as transparently as possible, the initiative would involve Uniform Poverty vouchers being distributed to individual schools.

The schools would issue these to eligible families who would redeem them at those shops where uniforms can be bought. The shops would then invoice the town council for the cash.

Cllr Morris said he learned of a similar initiative being operated by Halewood Council, in Merseyside, while attending a recent National Association of Local Councils (NALC) meeting.

His written recommendation delivered to the town council for its November 29 meeting, states: "The school blazer is the dearest part of the uniform. Fortunately most schools in Keighley don't insist on the blazer anymore, but this is just a small part of the child's needs.

"Schools reflect society and we're living in a time of great inequality. Austerity has taken its toll on many families not just in Keighley. This is systemic throughout the country.

"We as a town council can change that for some of the children in our town. We can make a positive difference to many children's lives in Keighley.

"No child wants to go to school knowing they will be one of the people who doesn't have a school uniform.

"This isn't a normal report from a NALC conference, but more of a plea.

"I ask for this idea to be sent to finance and audit for them to cost it and make a proposal to full council to fund such a project in Keighley."

Cllr Morris said when he returned from the NALC gathering he had run the idea past Keighley deputy mayor Cllr Peter Corkindale, who encouraged him to put the proposal before the full town council.

Responding to the proposals, Keighley MP John Grogan said: "School uniforms can instil pride and put all pupils on an equal footing, but only if they're affordable.

"I think the scheme in Halewood is interesting, although obviously cost implications for Keighley would have to carefully worked out.

"National action is also required. The high cost of uniforms can be partly put down to school policies that make parents buy clothing from specialist shops rather than giving them the choice of buying at cheaper stores.

"The Government issued best practice guidelines to all school governing bodies which state, ‘No school uniform should be so expensive as to leave pupils or their families feeling unable to apply to, or attend, a school of their choice, due to uniform cost. School governing bodies should give high priority to cost considerations.’

"In 2015 the Government promised legislation to give this guidance – including avoiding exclusivity arrangements for uniforms – legal force. No new law has been forthcoming, so I've tabled a Parliamentary Question as to when we can expect it."

John Devlin, executive head of Our Lady of Victories and St Joseph's Catholic Primary Schools, said: "I think Cllr Morris’ proposal is excellent. There are undoubtedly families in our town in genuine poverty.

"School uniform is essential to create a sense of identity, encourage discipline, improve attendance and it helps safeguard students. It means students resist peer pressure to buy trendy clothes, something many families cannot afford.

"I fully support this initiative and believe that in doing this, our town council can really make a difference to the most needy of our town."

Keighley West councillor Adrian Farley, Bradford Council's portfolio holder for children and families, also voiced support, adding: "I welcome Cllr Morris' proposal. It's something sensible to help some of the most vulnerable people in society."

The Uniform Poverty scheme was due to be discussed yesterday (Dec 12) by the town council's finance and audit committee.