A badge too far?

15th November 2002 at 00:00
Has the obsession with branding and merit awards crossed the line in the drive to recruit school staff? Or do logos attract the cream of the crop? Chris Bunting reports

Anyone who was in the Scouts or Girl Guides will remember the characters: the shiny woggled sorts with such a terrific armful of proficiency badges that it was a wonder their shirt seams held. Not just the fun badges, mind you. The arcane shapes on their arms spoke of an intimate knowledge of such dark arts as embroidery, stamp collecting and, God save us, working with the community.

So where did they all end up? The SAS? Stitching shirts out of goatskins while traversing the Kalahari? It's a scary thought, but John Howson, visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University and the leading expert on teacher recruitment, believes they are closer to home.

"If you read TES Jobs, a strange thing has happened in the last 18 months. Badges and logos have been proliferating. You can barely find an advert without some kind of badge on it: Investors in People, specialist colleges, achievement awards, and so on," he says.

So the badge collectors are alive and well, it seems - and living in the headteacher's office.

And Professor Howson certainly has a point. At the last count, TES Jobs carried 29 different logos and proficiency badges, some repeated up to seven times on a single page. Some adverts devoted as much space to these often incomprehensible hieroglyphics as to describing the jobs themselves. One advert for an English teacher at a secondary school in the Midlands used more than a quarter of its space and spent about pound;100 displaying all the badges it could find - Artsmark, Sportsmark, Careermark, a technology college mark, an Investors in People logo and so on.

"In the past 18 months, this has definitely escalated,"says Professor Howson. "You feel some schools think they have to do this."

Clearly, schools are proud of their badges. And so they should be: awards such as Investors in People take years to earn, and they reassure the job-seeker about an institution's management. Others, such as specialist college marks, promise good facilities and sum up a school's ethos, while logos for the School Achievement Awards or beacon status speak plainly of excellence.

Russell Sullivan, head of Castle View school in Canvey Island, Essex, displayed seven logos in an advert for a deputy head last week. He believes his badges can be eye-catching.

"We had 35 inquiries by the Monday after the job was advertised. That is a healthy response. With the logos we are saying that we are a bit different, that we don't mind being exposed to outside criteria. Being an Investor in People or having a School Achievement Award says a lot. It picks up some of what we are proud about and displays it to others."

But there is another school of thought that casts doubt, not so much on the achievements but on the too liberal use of the logos in school publicity, especially in job adverts.

Catherine Dean, recruitment strategy manager at Education Bradford, the body running Bradford's schools, believes that to stand out in the jobs pages, it pays to look as non-corporate as possible.

Education Bradford is one of the few authorities that does not insist that its logos appear on its school adverts, and schools' own logos are kept to a minimum. The adverts usually carry a single school logo, usually of an informal and non-corporate design. Recent examples include a child's drawing of a school, a tree and a hunting horn. Ms Dean says the idea behind the strategy is that job-hunters are generally looking to work for a friendly school, and not a corporation. "It makes a heck of a difference - for one job we had over 300 inquiries," says Ms Dean.

Alan Hall, head at Bradford's Belle Vue girls school, which uses the hunting horn logo, says he's got plenty of badges. "We've got the awards - and we're pleased to have them," he says. "But before I use them on a job advert, I have got to ask myself whether it is relevant to the job-seeker?'

And often it is not."

Indeed, many logos on the jobs pages have little to do with the schools or jobs they advertise, but some local council advertising offices insist on imposing their own logos. One deputy head's job, for instance, boasted that Northamptonshire County Council was a 'beacon' council. Fair enough, you might think - except that this status related not to education but to the authority's record on improving 'urban green spaces'. Similarly, Tameside council has carried a logo boasting of its excellence in crime prevention.

Interestingly, the highly polished adverts for teacher supply agencies near the back of TES Jobs carry few logos but plenty of creative artwork. But the most striking recent example of non-corporate advertising in the TES came from Westcott primary school in Hull. It was a appallingly amateurish effort, featuring Clipart of champagne bottles and balloons and written by members of staff. It stood out a mile from other appeals for ICT teachers in the October 18 edition of The TES.

The text could only have been written by the school itself: "We can offer you an ICT suite to play in, willing pupils, professional development, and staff body-bowling." (Body bowling is a variation on 10-pin bowling in which Westcott staff hurl their own bodies at the pins.) And the result of the ad? Scores of enquiries, a dozen applicants, six interviewees and a highly satisfactory appointment within the month.

"I've done an experiment on this before," says Karen Foster, head at Westcott."I've put in one of my own adverts and a more corporate one, and my own one has got a much better response."

Ironically, a few days after her latest advertisement, Ms Foster received a circular from Hull council: it requested that in future all school job advertisements should bear the council's official logos.

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