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How to get the most out of freebies;Resources

Faced with a tide of sponsored teaching materials how do teachers decide what is worth looking at? And how do they find something that fits the age range and the area of the curriculum they are teaching?

Teachers' biggest fears are that sponsored resources will be heavily biased in favour of a particular product, that the material itself will contain a thinly disguised sales message, andor that it will be heavily branded. Even worse, the educational value may be minimal. Generally, such fears are unfounded. The reason is simple. Businesses know that to get their materials accepted they must conform with the national curriculum. Resource packs are therefore often written by teachers and some are endorsed by subject associations.

In 1989, worried by the rise in sponsored resources for schools, the National Consumer Council produced a set of guidelines. These were revised and relaunched in 1996, and today they stand as the only authoritative advice for businesses and other organisations on the Do's and Don'ts of publishing educational resources for schools. Heather Reed, managing director of Resources Plus, a sponsored materials publishing company, says:

"We're aware of the NCC guidelines and they're very much common sense anyway. We work with EBPs (Education Business Partnerships), SATROs (science and technology regional organisations) and subject bodies like the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of Science and Education and the Design and Technology Association."

But the NCC guidelines are not welcome everywhere. They are a bone of contention with Business in the Community. Ian Pearce, director of BITC, says: "We withdrew from the NCC guidelines two years ago when they told us we should back away from any form of logo on materials. This is wrong. Teachers, parents and pupils have a right to know whether teaching materials are sponsored by a company. And companies have a right to expect it. They are trying to build stakeholder relations and brand awareness in a sensitive way and they want to be recognised for that." Business in the Community has developed its own set of guidelines for cause-related marketing.

The Consumers' Association recommended in October 1997 that there should be some form of quality Kitemark for sponsored teaching materials. The idea has been raised regularly ever since but has been dismissed as unworkable.

At one point it was suggested that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority should look at materials. Tony Milne, its head of communications dismisses this. "We'd need four times our organisation to read, criticise or endorse these materials."

The authority puts the responsibility back on to headteachers. Milne says:

"Heads have a duty to sift their postbags to decide what is useful from what is perhaps merely of interest."

Resources Plus lists just over 500 sponsored resources by age and subject area in its schools guide. Heather Reed, the managing director, says:

"Variety is key. Videos, CD-Roms and written material - each can be effective with different teaching styles."

Unlike books, which carry an international standard book number, and British Library catalogue information, there is no central register of resource materials so guides like the Resources Plus guide Resources for Education from Industry and the University of Warwick Centre for Education and Industry's Directory of Teaching Materials from Business are essential reading.

Education Business Partnerships Good first port of call for links in to local firms and will be aware of any industry resources or locally produced teaching material. National Training Organisations Useful source of up-to-date industry related curriculum material. Particularly useful contacts are the Steel NTO, The Construction Industry Training Board and the Chemical Manufacture and Processes NTO.Subject AssociationsSubject associations are sometimes involved with business in publishing sponsored teaching materials and their seal of approval is a guide to quality. Some subject associations such as the Chemical Industry Education Centre and the Design and Technology Association publish "good resource guides".

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