Ask a mum: Where’s the best place to shop for ‘back to school’ gear?

Mother-of-two Claire Spreadbury offers her advice on how to get ahead in the classroom style stakes.

Many of us remember the back-to-school shopping spree as a pretty exciting time of year when we were children. A whole pile of brand new loot, all bought and paid for without us having to shell out a single pound of pocket money. What could be better?

Not much has changed. Parents are still trawling the high street, supermarkets or internet for new uniform, sturdy shoes, cool school bags and pencil cases. But what do kids really need, and where are the best places to get it?

Our writer Claire Spreadbury, mum of two girls, Rosie aged 10 and Poppy, 7, gives her advice.

Uniform

Uniform items from M&S start from under £10 (Marks and Spencer/PA)

Most children have to wear school uniform, and there are often jumpers, cardigans and more which have to be bought branded with the school logo, from the school or dedicated shops recommended.

But often, there are other uniform items you can save money on. Shorts, skirts, shirts, summer dresses, socks and trousers are frequently left up to you, to buy from wherever suits your budget – as long as you opt for the right school colours.

For longevity, Marks & Spencer is an obvious choice. Trousers, shorts, skirts  and shirts start from under £10, with double packs offering better value for money. The quality’s good, they wash up well and you know they’ll last for as long as they fit.

For when you need to make your money go further, there are enormous bargains to be found. Aldi have been selling bundles containing two polo shirts, a sweatshirt and either a pair of trousers or a skirt for just £4.50.

School shoes

Kids in their school shoes
(Marks and Spencer/PA)

School shoes can be tricky. On the one hand, these are the shoes your children will undoubtedly wear the most, therefore they should be good quality and fit well. But on the other, they’re also going to get seriously battered and be too small in the blink of an eye.

I’ve forked out huge amounts of money on school shoes – some expensive brands, some dirt cheap, and had varying results. But Clarks is undoubtedly the place I go back to, where they still fit shoes properly to your child’s feet, and the footwear seems to last.

PE kit

Kids in sportswear by Adidas
(Adidas/PA)

Some PE items might be specified by the school – branded polo shirts and sweatshirts are pretty commonplace, for example. But the shorts, joggers, plimsolls and trainers are often areas to save cash. In my experience, PE shorts often have tiny waists, long legs and look pretty raggedy in a matter of months, so any old pair will do. The school shop, Amazon, M&S – they won’t set you back a great deal.

Same goes for Plimsolls. Aldi are selling theirs for £1.99, Asda from £2.50 – these items aren’t worth spending a lot of money on, so lob a pair in your trolley next time you’re shopping.

Joggers and trainers are fairly straight forward while your kids are still young. A plain pair of M&S tracksuit bottoms and sneakers used to do the job nicely, but once they reach double figures and are more influenced by brands, you’re likely to be begged for Nike or Adidas numbers. Try hitting the sales, or head to Sports Direct, where you can buy the brands, but at a cheaper price, because they’re not the latest ranges.

School bags

A selection of school bags from Smiggle and Adidas
Seek Reflective Access Backpack, £34, Smiggle; Kids Training Athletic Backpack, £21.95, Adidas; Paradise Backpack, £34, Smiggle (Smiggle/Adidas/PA)

If your school doesn’t dictate on school bags, this is a great area to have some fun and/or rack up your style credentials. Smiggle seem to dominate on the school bag front. They have a huge array of styles and colours, and some smaller sizes for when little ones are just starting school, too.

For the older kids, they might prefer something from Hype, Nike or Adidas, so again, check the sales, but the bags are often better value than you expect them to be.

Lunchboxes and water bottles

Selection of lunch-on-the-go items
Believe Glitter Stainless Steel Drink Bottle, £15, Smiggle; Pack A Snack Lunch Bag, £15, Frugi; Black+Blum Stainless Steel Small Food Flask and Spoon, £29.99, Lakeland (Smiggle/Frugi/Lakeland/PA)

For anyone opting for packed lunches, there’s a huge line in lunchboxes. No longer do kids lug big old plastic boxes around, but there are lots of stylish options available, most of which help keep lunches hot or cold.

Frugi and Lakeland offer up some of my favourite lunch-on-the-go holders. Frugi have a great new range of kit that’s made from recycled plastic bottles, and Lakeland have ingenious products, so if you fancy packing your mini me off with a nice hot, nutritious lunch, it’ll stay that way until they eat it.

Most kids seem to have a minor addiction to water bottles. I have a cupboard bursting with them, yet they’re forever wanting to buy more. A spangly new addition does tend to make them drink more water, at least for a week or two, so it’s a worthy investment.

But beware the bottles that leak… which is a lot of them, to be honest. I’m a fan of the metal ones – they seem to hold a decent amount, be able to withstand a fair amount of bashing about and don’t spill when the lid is on.

Pencil cases

selection of stationery
Seek Hardtop Pencil Case, £12.50, Smiggle; A Grader Rose Gold Highlighters, £4 for a pack of four, Paperchase; Seek Twin Zip Pencil Case, £8.50, Smiggle (Smiggle/Paperchase/PA)

Smiggle is your best bet for pencil cases. There are well over 100 kinds available from their website, and they are the stuff of dreams. Sequins that swoosh, sharpeners that pop out when you press a button, multiple sections, in-built calculators, hard tops, squishy ones – you name it, they’ve got it.

Stationery

 

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While you’re at Smiggle, you might want to pick up some scented pencils or incredible rubbers, but you’ll also need some run-of-the-mill stuff. Pens, pencils, ruler – even whiteboard pens can be a requirement now. You can find most of this stuff in any good stationers, WHSmith is always worth a look, Paperchase have a great range, and you can pick up some bargains at Wilko, too.

Coats

Joules Navy Packaway Cairn Padded Jacket, from £37, Alex and Alexa
Joules Navy Packaway Cairn Padded Jacket, from £37, Alex and Alexa (Alex and Alexa/PA)

The school coat – much like the shoes – is going to be worn a lot. You might even need two – a lighter weight one for autumn and spring, and then a proper winter one. It needs to be cool, obviously, or they won’t want to wear it. And schools generally prefer kids to wear darker colours, so black, navy, dark green and burgundy are all good options.

Hoods are helpful, as are pockets and waterproofing. And for the chilly months, a longer length coat is a really good idea, especially if your kids feel the cold.