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Media blitz to fight state school exodus

TES correspondents report on the impact of market forces on pupil recruitment in Sweden and the US

UNITED STATES

A growing number of education authorities are launching campaigns to compete for pupils with charter and private schools.

Philadelphia, America's fifth-largest education authority, announced last week that it would pump $600,000 (pound;334,700) into a television, radio and newspaper advertisement campaign to turnaround declining enrolment.

Student numbers at the city's school have plunged by 16,000 to 184,000 since 2001, amid stiffening competition from independent and charter schools. Parents are also sending their children to wealthier suburban state schools, said spokeswoman Cecilia Cummings.

The media blitz was the idea of an investment fund chairman who heads the city's school reform committee. James Nevel, of Swarthmore Group, has encouraged schools to think of children as clients.

Ms Cummings said. "We are making ourselves into a consumer-friendly, market-savvy organisation."

Television commercials now being aired close with a mission statement:

"Children Come First. No Excuses." She denied that the $600,000 spent on advertising might have been better spent on supplies, as some inner-city Philadelphia schools rank among America's poorest.

"Every time that we lose students, money goes with them, so it's a small investment for the prospective gain," she said.

US schools are funded per pupil. Each Philadelphia student brings in $8,000 a year. The city is also banking on the ads galvanising corporate donors and parent volunteers.

In Colorado, education authorities placed ads over the summer to woo students for the new school year. Colorado Springs academy school district 20 ran 30-second TV slots during early-evening "primetime".

"Independent schools are advertising: we're just levelling the playing field," said superintendent Kenneth Vedrahe.

The authority spent $16,000 on the ads, which boast of high test scores, an appearance on satellite TV's Discovery Channel, and a victory in America's National Spelling Bee tournament.

Continuing the trend, Arizona's Scottsdale education authority announced a three-year marketing campaign last month "to reverse declining enrolment".

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