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How parents are buying school shoes in 2022

We surveyed hundreds of parents to find out how they buy school shoes, how much they spend, and how they make sure they last the year, with top tips from families and recommendations on how to shop smartly this year.

A row of children wearing different school shoes
Published: August 15, 2022 at 11:30 am

When it comes to kitting out your children for school, there are few items that frustrate parents quite like footwear. When we surveyed over 700 parents across the UK about school uniform, school shoes came up time and time again as the biggest bone of contention: the items that cost the most yet last the least amount of time. To prevent your child losing their school shoes, take a look at our top pick of name labels.

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How much do parents spend on each pair of school shoes?

School shoes are expensive. 60% of parents we spoke to said they spend £30 or more on each pair of school shoes: that’s more than the cost of a uniform from 9 out of the 10 retailers we covered in our 2022 school uniform testing article.

  • 39% spend under £30
  • 26% spend between £30-£39
  • 22% spend between £40-£49
  • 12% spend £50+

How many school shoes do parents buy a year?

49% buy 2 pairs of school shoes for each child per year, 24% buy 3 or more

Although the end of the summer school holidays is the traditional time to shop for a new pair of shoes for the next school year, our survey shows that 72% parents have to buy more than one set of school shoes per child in one year.

  • 13% buy 1 pair per child
  • 49% buy 2 pairs
  • 24% buy 3 pairs or more
  • 14% say it depends on their child

That's a lot of shoes, so why don't they last a year?

70% of parents who say they buy more than 1 pair per child during the year said this is because their kids’ feet have grown.

Even if your child is older and their foot growth has slowed, that doesn’t mean a pair of shoes will last them a whole school year: over 50% of parents we spoke to also said they buy extra pairs due to wear and tear throughout the year.

A group of teenagers wearing school uniform and school shoes

“All the school shoes we have bought have worn through within weeks,” said one concerned parent, while another noticed a particular issue with styles aimed at girls. “Girls' shoes are nowhere near hardwearing enough. My daughter has had a pair a term this year mainly because she has wrecked them.”

“My son plays football at lunch times on the concrete/hard surfaces so shoes just wear out so quickly no matter what we buy!” admitted another parent, addressing a key issue that many of us probably remember from our own days at school. While black leather shoes look smart for a few days, if you have an active kid who makes the most of break times, you’ll soon find yourself cursing the school for not allowing trainers or more rugged designs.

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A mum helping her son to put his school shoes on

Should kids be allowed to wear trainers to school?

This was a common thread with the parents we spoke to. Although most of them recognised the importance of a uniform in creating an identity for the school and helping all children look and feel equal, it was footwear that was the most divisive.

"I think they should be able to be comfortable in whatever footwear they like,” one parent said, and a number of parents did question whether the smart options usually required are the best fit for the activities these children will do in a normal school day – especially younger ones.

How to find the hardest wearing school shoes

However, they also had some good tips on how to scope out the most hard-wearing options out of what is allowed. “For my son I look for rubber on the outer toe area as this is the area that gets a lot of wear/tear from playing during break time. I opt for a more expensive shoe to last at least a few months, one pair lasted one week at one stage,” said one parent. Another agreed, “Shoes that have rubber at the front to protect them ripping and getting scuffs are brilliant as they last longer!”

In terms of brands, there was no surprise that stalwarts such as Clarks, Start-Rite and M&S got plenty of mentions, but we were also interested to see Dr Martens getting the nod from multiple parents as a more sturdy and hardwearing option for girls in particular, while another told us, "Aldi shoes have been the best so far. They have been the only shoes I've not had to replace."

A young boy having his feet measured by a parent

Getting a good fit is also key, but how to achieve this is something that has definitely shifted in the past few years.

At MadeForMums we have always supported the advice from The Royal College of Podiatry that children should have their feet measured professionally for the most long-lasting, supportive, and comfortable fit. Our survey shows that this is still a popular option:

  • 47% of parents buy school shoes from a shoe shop that offers a fitting service
  • 21% choose a high street store offering a fitting service

That's almost 70% of parents choosing to opt for in-store fitting.

However, once size is established, parents also look to more convenient or affordable places to stock up. 21% parents buy school shoes from supermarkets and a further 16% have shopped online, without seeing the shoes before purchasing.

This option may have grown in popularity following closure of some shoe stores or reduction in fitting options during the pandemic. Specialist shoe retailers invested time and money in making sure at-home fitting was as accurate and straightforward as possible (which is not only great for parents, but reduces returns for the retailer too).

Bobux, for example, will give you a fitting from a photograph, while home-measuring options are offered by both Clarks and Start-Rite, including the possibility of buying your own plastic measuring gauge. Start-Rite also offer a free paper guide to print out or order. When shops were shut in April 2020, Start-Rite delivered 20,000 of these, and between 2020 and 2021 sales of their plastic gauges also went up almost 20%.

With more fitting and shopping options than ever before, you'd think it would make parents' jobs a lot easier, but it seems all the choices – coupled with the seemingly endless rules and requests of different schools – mean this is still a job a lot of parents dread.

To help you, here are our top 4 tips, inspired by the parents we spoke to, to make buying school shoes easier.

Parent-approved tips for buying the best school shoes

1. Look for hardwearing details

Rubber toe and heel caps, leather uppers, sturdy soles and solid buckles or velcro are all key, according to our survey. For younger children, a lot of school-style shoes borrow details from trainers or boots, which make them a bit more hardwearing in the playground. Avoid the urge to buy fashion styles, even under pressure from your kids, as they may not be as well-made.

2. Consider unisex designs

The more dainty styles that have traditionally been offered to girls often don't have the durability of the 'boy' equivalents. If your child wears through 'pretty' styles too quickly, you may want to look for unisex designs with more solid soles, or look at shoes that are housed in a boys' section: foot shape doesn't really differ between gender!

3. Get fitted

Ensuring the right fit will make sure the shoes feel good and last as long as possible. Most parents still choose to go in store, but if time or availability is making that hard for you, there are some useful online tools to help. Don't guess or just instinctively buy the next size up: ill-fitting shoes will make your child uncomfortable and unhappy, and they're likely to wear out more quickly if they don't fit well.

4. Invest where you can

Almost all the parents we spoke to suggested paying a bit more for school shoes when and if you can, to avoid having to replace shoes before they've been outgrown. We know money is tight right now, but if you can make savings elsewhere (such as buying our top-rated supermarket or value uniform instead of your school's recommended brand) there could be a bit more money for shoes.

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Images: Getty

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