The prospectus of Marshfields School in Peterborough is in a class of its own. Not only is it the prize-winner among special schools but it is the only such school to win a TES award. Yet surely other special schools take their duty to show parents and children what it is they have to offer just as seriously?
Arguably choice of school and effective partnerships are even more crucial for parents of children with severe or complex learning difficulties.
Marshfields clearly recognises this; the coverline of its prospectus reads, "Marshfields School - a positive choice". And headteacher Barbara Berryman regards the prospectus as a key factor in ensuring parents and children feel Marshfields is right for them.
"Often a child - or a parent - coming to a special school feels at the end of the road; that they have failed in the mainstream or are not good enough for it. We try through our whole philosophy to show they have made a positive choice, the right choice for them rather than because there is nowhere else to go. We try to show through all our materials that they are getting a quality education that is right for them.
"When I hand a prospectus to a child who is coming to this school I want them to have a feeling of pride about it, a feeling that this is a good place to come to."
Clarity is the hallmark of this A4 booklet. Restrained use of desktop publishing gives a plain but clean, coherent style. A comprehensive index and and boxed headings help you find your way round its 40 pages.
Clearly intended to provide both initial information and later reference, the plastic-covered "prospectus and parent handbook" is broken down into sections: general information (staff, governors, aims, school day, "What's special about Marshfields"); home and school (parental involvement and entitlements, admissions, child protection, complaints, transport and attendance); uniform and belongings; behaviour and discipline (policies on behaviour, equal opportunities and anti-bullying, school council, homework); community links; the curriculum and the school calendar.
Barbara Berryman says all staff contributed though the editing and layout was masterminded by Guy Briggs, the head of maths. "We were insistent on it being home produced rather than going to some PR company. We are the people parents should get to know about. We should talk to them in our own words and it should not cost the earth."
Chalfonts Community College
first prize secondary
The Chalfonts Community College's cover slogan, "Success is an attitude" is a pointer to the ethos of the "self-governing technology college" taking first prize among the secondary prospectuses.
"We set out to capture the spirit and atmosphere of the college and make the visitor and parents feel what we are about," says principal Michael Preston who wrote most of the text himself. "We wanted to say what we actually believe about education and to put our values on the line.
"There is a lot of me in there," he recognises. "In too few schools, the leader doesn't make his beliefs clear."
It was that content - providing a clear answer to the question "why should I send my child to this school?" - which impressed the judges rather than the expensive packaging and full colour printing produced with the aid of a graphic design company.
Michael Preston admits they spent five times as much on the prospectus as they would have needed to meet the mandatory requirements in a school already popular and oversubscribed. A controversial decision, he agrees, but he cites four reasons for doing so.
"We have to work hard at forming a positive image of this organisation within the community we serve. It makes people who work here feel good about the school. It has also been a major recruitment tool, helping us to recruit good staff. And it has proved a powerful marketing aid which has repaid the money tenfold."
Chalfonts sent their prospectus to a number of companies they were seeking sponsorship from and believe they all agreed to meet the school as a result.
"It is not just a prospectus, it is a focus for our thinking about what we want to say to the world about the Chalfonts."