Do authorities live by their slogans?

20th February 2009 at 00:00

I was struck by the job adverts in a recent issue of The TESS. Let me hasten to reassure nervous employers that I shall not be seeking supply work when I retire, nor will I become an educational "consultant" - a term that, in my book, has as much credibility as a double-glazing salesman. I simply wanted to get a sense of the current employment market.

What struck me was the fact that most local authorities now include in their adverts a catch-phrase or slogan designed to make them sound attractive. I suppose it is all part of corporate "branding" which generally also involves arty logos and the use of distinctive typefaces. In the case of logos, I think quite a lot of money could be saved by asking children to design them: they are often much more creative than adults.

Some of the slogans used by authorities are not particularly memorable. Dundee's "Changing for the future" and Orkney's "Making a difference" are unlikely to inspire. East Lothian's "Working together, achieving together" is a shade better and is presumably intended to encourage a collegial approach. "Our Scottish Borders, your opportunity" conveys something of the same message, but the effect is undermined by the fact that the last two words are in a much smaller font than the first three.

Some authorities highlight their geographical position. Thus West Dunbartonshire has "From the banks of Loch Lomond to the shores of the Clyde", and Clackmannanshire highlights its accessibility from major cities with "Never far away". However, the latter is open to the unflattering interpretation that ease of escape is being presented as a major attraction.

North Lanarkshire opts for "Service and people first", which sounds promising, though it is not hard to imagine some local wags amending it. In devising slogans, it is always wise to think of the temptations they might offer to graffiti artists.

Dumfries and Galloway's "The natural place to teach", appealing to the attractiveness of south-west Scotland, has something to commend it. In education, however, "nature" is a notoriously tricky concept. It can be invoked in support of very different philosophies, from progressivism to traditionalism. Remember how "natural" corporal punishment was regarded?

My prize for the best slogan would go to Fife for "Work Fife, live Fife, love life". In its use of rhyme and alliteration, it shows sensitivity to language. It is also life-affirming in its acknowledgement that work should not be the whole experience. Aberdeenshire conveys the same message in a less striking way: "Enjoy work, enjoy life".

It would be interesting to conduct a small experiment to see how many teachers are aware of the slogan used by the authority which employs them and whether they think it reflects their experience of the way they are treated. In a number of cases, I suspect there might be something of a gap between rhetoric and reality.

Walter Humes is research professor of education at the University of the West of Scotland.

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