A picture of common sense?

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
Schools which vigorously promote themselves risk breaking child-protection rules, discovers Peter King

We now have to promote schools more than ever before - but do so under the eyes of the privacy watchdog and the constraints of the Data Protection Act.

Taking photographs seems to be the main problem, and while the brevity of guidance from the Information Commissioner belies the intricacies of some of the issues you are likely to face, its positive approach is encouraging:

"Fear of breaching the provisions of the act should not be wrongly used to stop people taking photographs or videos which provide many with much pleasure."

However, you quickly find yourself caught up in a war between your journalistic instincts, which have long proved your trusty guide, and the insidious forces of secrecy. The Department for Education and Skills advises that you ask for parental permission before using images of pupils "whether on the school website or elsewhere". Clearly consent is vital for personal information to be considered fairly processed, but the implications are that the rules that govern the website also apply to everything else.

The department's guidance goes on to say: "Avoid using the first name and last name of individuals in a photograph." Then two bullet points follow:

* If the pupil is named, avoid using their photograph.

* If a photograph is used, avoid naming the pupil.

The authors also suggest choosing group photos rather than individual shots, and only filming pupils in suitable dress.

You are clearly being asked to fly in the face of journalistic common sense. Clearly, caption writers need to know the names of people in photographs and the picture has to mesh with the story details. Group photographs are often duller than images of individuals - and setting up school play shots featuring cast members in fetching period dresses is a staple part of the press officer's job.

Some local authorities have published detailed and helpful sets of guidelines, such as Hampshire county council's "Using images of people: photographs, videos and webcams".

However, more evidence that good practice for electronic media is extending to printed publications appears again in this document's section on school prospectuses and other literature: "Although most school literature is sent to a very specific audience, it would be best to avoid using personal details or full names of any child in a photograph."

This spells trouble for school magazines. Prospectuses don't need this kind of detail, but you may use magazines - which provide much more precise information - as a key marketing tool. Hampshire's guidance may signal their death.

Schools, like other institutions, need to have "sex appeal" to catch the public's eye. They need to be able to shout their wares and showcase their selling points in a vernacular that speaks directly to ordinary people. It is something that does not easily chime with the flat-footed aspirations and private, coded language of the educational establishment.

Peter King is the marketing director at Wisbech grammar school, Cambridgeshire.See www.teachernet.gov.ukwholeschoolfamilyandcommunitychildprotectionusefuli nformationphotosandvideos and: www.hants.gov.ukTCcgphotosintro.html

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