Should advertising be allowed in schools?

This teacher believes tightly-controlled advertising could help boost schools’ coffers – but would present plenty of ethical dilemmas

Eddie White

Should advertising be allowed in schools?

I recall a little of how advertising made its way into cricket. My dad was a Yorkshireman and mad for the sport. The only time I ever broke a window was playing cricket in my front garden, the ball shattering the living room glazing. My dad, never the calmest of people, yelled “SIX” out of the newly-destroyed window with pride in his voice, and held up his two index fingers in the iconic umpire’s sign.

He had one whinge about cricket, though: advertising.

There was already evidence of logos on bats and helmets, and tobacco companies were starting to sponsoring some cricket leagues. My dad died in 1990 just before it started to get too obvious. The idea that unsullied white trousers with a hint of red from rubbing the ball on the leg – that classic cricket image – is now limited to test matches would have made him mad.

Part of the reason he was so against the introduction of tobacco advertising was his hatred of the product, which he was addicted to. He died from a smoking-related illness at 42 when I was 13, leaving my mum to bring up all six of us on her own.

How ethical a product is, however, is highly subjective, particularly as so many companies have involvement in areas beyond their obvious products.

School sport is used to this. The company employed to construct a new building for my previous school paid for a full set of football strips – and these are not cheap. We are generally well accustomed to seeing advertising on and around playing fields, even in schools.

And if a parent asks to spend a few thousand pounds on paying for a literacy project that the school can’t justify financially otherwise, I do not doubt that that mum or dad would be invited as a VIP into the school for the associated prizegiving or celebrations that may follow, begging the question of why companies should be treated differently to individuals.

As much as it irritates me, my children often come home with a magazine from school which is full of adverts, usually for study guides or private tutoring. That may, however, be the tip of the iceberg if we don’t seek to regulate how and what gets advertised in schools.

With 32 local authorities in Scotland, it is worrying that we don’t have an overarching approach to controlling advertising in our primary or secondary schools. The Scottish government has, however, recently said that advertising is done at the “local authority’s discretion but any advertising in schools should only be done after careful ethical consideration”.

With Perth and Kinross apparently looking to introduce ways of advertising in schools as a way of generating much-needed revenue, what will this mean for pupils and parents? There is no doubt certain high street fast-food chains will not be permitted to advertise – the Greggs Early Morning Maths Study Support Club will not happen. But will teachers end up wearing sponsored lab coats or have some form of sponsorship deal, like (rather less well remunerated) footballers? Will pupils end up attending a Tesco-branded school? Maybe they’ll have Next as suppliers for their PE kit? These scenarios may not be very likely, but there is no mechanism to curtail in-school advertising.

Perth and Kinross Council has been looking into allowing advertising across its school estate. Could this be a welcome proposal in some ways? Perhaps we should applaud Perth and Kinross for being honest about its advertising plans.

Many schools already have some element of what Perth and Kinross has proposed. How many people paid for the school Christmas card that their son or daughter designed? I know that schools make money from those – a considerable amount in some schools. Is there a difference between the raising funds money from selling Christmas cards at a profit and improving the education budget by selling advertising space?

On the other hand, can we be sure that every headteacher will find the right balance between ethical and less appropriate advertising in the increasingly fraught attempts to shore up education budgets?

Eddie White is a maths teacher in East Lothian

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Eddie White

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