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

Parents will be trawling the shops or internet for new uniform, sturdy shoes, cool school bags and pencil cases in the coming weeks. But what do kids really need, and where are the best places to get it? Mum-of-two Claire Spreadbury gives her advice

Marks and Spencer, always reliable for schoolwear

:: Uniform

Jumpers, cardigans and blazers often have to be bought branded with the school logo, from the school or dedicated shops.

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

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

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 straightforward 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

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

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.

:: Pencil cases

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.

:: Coats

Much like the shoes, this 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.

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.

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