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A Major marketing opportunity

"This place looks more like an exhibition hall than a school," said the man from The Times as John Major walked over to the gleaming Land Rover Discovery and gave it a loving pat.

Nearby exhibition stands promoted Mercury Communication and GTI Computers as well as children's work.

Outside a Philips hot air balloon inflated in the school playground and LDV, formerly Leyland Daf Vans, parked one of its show vehicles.

The Prime Minister's visit to Small Heath school in Birmingham last week was a marketing opportunity to kill for.

Companies which have supported the school through sponsorship, donation of equipment, support with pupil projects or in backing for its technology college status reaped rich rewards.

Mr Major inaugurated Small Heath - the first inner-city school to opt-out - as a technology college in his high-profile visit to Birmingham last week.

The 1,150-pupil school in an area of high social deprivation raised between Pounds 120,000 and Pounds 150,000 from businesses including Mercury, which is based on the nearby Small Heath Business Park, GTI, LDV and W Canning, a local employer.

It has switched to a Mercury telephone system. Richard Riley, senior tutor, said: "We didn't need to, but we thought we ought."

The school is in an area where unemployment runs at 36 per cent compared with 12 per cent in the city of Birmingham and 10 per cent in the UK.

Some 91 per cent of pupils come from Pakistani and Bangladeshi families. A further 8 per cent are from a Chinese, Caribbean or Arabic background.

The majority of their parents have received little formal education; 60 per cent have difficulty in reading a letter or school report and 40 per cent cannot speak English fluently.

This year there were 350 applications for 210 places at the school and the proportion of pupils gaining five or more top grade GCSEs jumped from 20 per cent in 1994 to 27 per cent.

The school has strong links with industry. Among the projects children have undertaken was the re-design of three parts for the Land Rover Discovery. (They were actually made and placed on a test vehicle which has been sold.) Technology college status is the natural next step from GMS, the school believes. Cecil Knight, the school's headteacher, said: "I am not ashamed of what we have done. Other schools can follow suit if they are prepared to put in the hard work like we did to get the money. It is open to all schools, not just grant-maintained schools, now.

"Sponsorship per se is a thing of the past. There is a trade-off and any company that gets involved with a school has its own agenda.

"You are conscious of the fact that you are promoting a positive image for that company but we wouldn't get involved with a company whose reputation would have a detrimental effect on our children."

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