The dark side of the whiteboard - Bin the platitudes and get some grit

21st May 2010 at 01:00

My classroom is getting me down. The recycling bin has been overflowing for so long that I am now recycling the recycling back into the ordinary bin so that Gary the cleaner will empty it for me. Since our principal was at the dentist when the workforce reforms came in, emptying the recycling bin is apparently my job, alongside a multitude of non-teaching tasks. There must be a teaching job that doesn't revolve around petty cash and environmental waste management.

With this in mind, I have been searching through some old TES recruitment sections. No joy, but I did discover a new phenomenon: the rise of the school "brand". In its most primitive form, this involves a pair of speech marks and an anodyne mission statement promising attainment, inclusion, world peace and a place in The X-Factor final.

Not content with this assault on our gag reflex, this is usually followed by a fuzzy logo created by a Year 10 work experience student. Branding, it would seem, is now as much the business of state secondaries as it is of Saatchi Saatchi. The only difference is we do it terribly badly.

We have ignored the first rule of branding: it's the sizzle, not the sausage. Brands flourish by delivering powerful messages aimed directly at their target markets. But in education we don't get this.

Our schools spew out wishy-washy, Mother Teresa mission statements and drippy, homogenous taglines. I am sure, for example, that parents of pupils at one school must be reassured to know that it is "Committed to Achievement". As opposed to what, one wonders? Another prefers the more alliteratively smug version of the same: "Aspiration, Attitude, Achievement".

There are feistier alternatives, such as the take-no-prisoners approach of another school: "Dare to Dream. Aim to Achieve". What does this say about the school other than it has noble aspirations and a fondness for imperatives?

It is time to wake up and smell the Kenco. We are a sophisticated, brand-literate society and we know the future's bright, that good things come to those who wait, and we would rather have a bowl of Coco Pops. So come on schools, let's bin the trite platitudes borrowed from the Little Book of Calm and introduce a bit of gritty realism into our marketing. How about: Excelsior Academy "No teacher has been entirely eviscerated - yet". We could even celebrate our achievement in public examinations: Exodus Technology College "Committed to pimping up your child's GCSE results".

Alternatively, we could steal taglines from the film industry to promote schools in special measures. "Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the yard", "In the classroom, no one can hear you scream" and "Be afraid, be very afraid" are more plausible slogans for some of our challenging schools than "Achieving Excellence for all Through Endeavour".

Given that cash shortages mean we are more likely to be branding schools for the future rather than building them, let's toast the new government with a brave, new approach to school branding. So when you apply for the deputy headship at Argos Clearance Items Academy - "Where Media Studies Matters" - at least you will know what you are letting yourself in for.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England.

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