South Africa


Parents complain about price of school-branded Covid-19 essentials

Parents complain about price of school-branded Covid-19 essentials
(Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo)

The Competition Commission says schools complied with their agreement to curb the uncompetitive pricing of school uniforms. However, recent complaints from parents indicate that some schools are forcing parents to buy school-branded Covid-19 essentials such as face masks and sanitisers.

Schools that signed agreements with the Competition Commission heeded the commission’s call to root out anti-competitive practices on the pricing of school uniforms and the monopoly of supply.

“Since the conclusion of the settlement agreements in 2019, the commission has not received any complaints from parents or any other stakeholders against the parties with whom these agreements were concluded. This is in and of itself an indication that these parties are complying with the order,” said the commission spokesperson, Siyabulela Makunga.

Settlement agreements were concluded with the AdvTech Group, St Andrew’s School for Girls, Curro Schools and Inspired Schools, as well as the two largest manufacturers and suppliers of school uniforms, Grit Procurement and McCullagh & Bothwell.

The commission’s intervention since 2010 was the culmination of a deluge of complaints from parents who flagged uncompetitive prices of uniforms in some schools due to the exclusivity of suppliers.

The commission’s investigation revealed that some schools were over-prescriptive and forced parents to buy school uniforms exclusively from selected suppliers, even in instances where prices were inflated.

The AdvTech group’s national admin and operations manager, Chaile Makaleng, told Daily Maverick that “In an effort to ensure that uniform prices are affordable to our parents, and in line with the measures of the Competition Commission, we have reduced the number of compulsory uniform items to a minimum, and we also have second-hand uniform shops at most schools.”

Commissioner Tembinkosi Bonakele, speaking during a virtual event to mark the beginning of another agreement with school governing body stakeholders, said the commission nevertheless receives complaints about school uniforms and uncompetitive buying practices.

“The complaints that we receive come from different stakeholders. Some complaints received from parents relating to school uniform prices and lack of competitive buying still.

“In the era of Covid-19, the commission has been receiving complaints from parents about the requirements of schools that learners wear school-branded or purchase brand-specific Covid-19 related items. These include face masks, hand sanitisers, technological gadgets for e-learning purposes and other items,” he said.

Since the agreement, the commission has not received complaints against the four schools they have an agreement with.

“In dealing with complaints, the commission is engaging with the schools to amend their procurement policies in line with the school uniform guidelines and is encouraging the school to sign the Undertaking by Schools on Best Practice Principles of School Uniform Procurement,” Bonakele said.

According to Bonakele, the commission does not want to involve schools in lengthy litigation processes but rather to encourage schools to adopt fair practices when it comes to school uniform procurement.

The commission has not litigated against any school for non-compliance with the settlement agreement.

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed during the virtual event on Monday 1 March between the Governing Body Foundation, the National Association of School Governing Bodies, the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools and the South African National Association for Specialised Education is, according to the commission, a continuation of its commitment to ensuring that school uniform prices are fair and not exclusive.

“The commission does not dictate to schools if they should have a uniform, only that the process of choosing suppliers should be competitive. At the commission we believe that school uniforms are an important tool for learning in our school culture to make children identify with the school and feel that they belong,” Bonakele said.

The MOU establishes cooperation between the parties in areas such as education and awareness, addressing anti-competitive procurement processes, monitoring compliance with the existing agreement and encouraging more schools to sign the settlement agreement.

The latest iteration of the 2019 agreement guidelines is contained in a circular titled Procurement of School Uniform and other Learning-Related Goods and Services, published by the commission and the Department of Basic Education last year.

The key guidelines include:

  • Schools should avoid using a single supplier for parents to purchase school uniforms, which may include branded masks and other personal protective equipment because this can contribute to the high costs of school uniforms.
  • School uniform items should be as generic as possible.
  • Schools should avoid compelling parents to procure branded items that are not critical to their school’s identity.
  • Unless there are efficiencies that can be gained (cost savings or system integration), schools should avoid compelling learners to purchase particular brands of learning items. DM

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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