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Sweet sponsors leave sour taste

National Union of Teachers calls for boycott of unhealthy commercial schemes in schools. Jon Slater reports

A CAMPAIGN of non co-operation with schemes in schools sponsored by food and other companies was launched this week by the largest teaching union.

The National Union of Teachers attacked an "unprecedented increase" in the use of commercial materials in schools and threatened action in support of members unwilling to co-operate with companies' marketing efforts.

The move follows the recent furore over Cadbury's Get Active scheme, which has attracted criticism from health campaigners by offering schools sports equipment in return for vouchers from chocolate bar wrappers.

UK companies now spend an estimated pound;300 million a year promoting brands in the classroom.

John Bangs, NUT head of education, said that the past year had seen a huge shift in the Government's attitude to commercial activity in the classroom.

Added to the large-scale sponsorship deals, such as those required of specialist schools, there has been a willingness to allow marketing within schools - a development he described as "deeply disturbing".

Voucher schemes, such as Cadbury's and Walkers Crisps' Books for Schools, have been criticised for offering poor value to schools and parents. The Food Commission estimates that to earn a pound;10 basketball from the Cadbury scheme, a child would have to eat 170 chocolate bars, at a cost of pound;71.

Sponsored curriculum materials will also be targeted by the NUT. The union is particularly critical of information on nutrition sponsored by Nestle, which has been repeatedly criticised for promoting its baby milk in the developing world.

"Some of the world's largest corporations, which are responsible for undermining health, environment and sustainable development, are at the same time being encouraged to become partners with schools and to provide core educational materials and services," the union says in advice to members.

"The NUT believes that the targeting of schools by companies actively seeking sponsorship and other deals with schools undermines teachers'

ability to educate children about the dangers of exploitation."

NUT members have been told they can use the union's existing action over workload to refuse to take on additional tasks associated with commercial activities.

In addition, the union promised to take out grievance procedures against headteachers who refuse to listen to teachers' professional concerns about commercial activities.

A DfES spokeswoman said: "Partnerships between schools and businesses can bring huge rewards, bringing creativity and innovation to the sector which pupils and teachers benefit from."

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