Gloss over the facts

28th January 2000 at 00:00
Selling the school has become big business. After the Education Reform Act, open enrolment and parental choice, the school prospectus has taken centre stage.

Led predominately by the grant-maintained sector, which sees itself as guardian of "traditional values" (a prominent phrase in prospectus-speak), prospectuses pander to parental fears by claiming that a more liberal, child-centred ethos threatens standards. The prospectus has removed codes of conduct in favour of "school rules", and has substituted photographs of children "at play" for the now almost universal headteacher pose and blurb espousing those "traditional values" of the public school sector. This is often twinned with an equally meaningless welcome message from the chairman of governors.

I believe the glossy prospectus should be ditched in favour of a collegiate information brochure about all schools within a community. It would be based on a set of agreed guidelines drawn up by heads and community members, rather than the cosy sub-committee of a governing body rubber-stamping senor management's decisions.

We need to question the glossy prospectus culture. Do parents really believe them? What percentage of the budget is allocated to this annual publication? Is it appropriate for schools to "market" their product? What else should the money be spent on? Another classroom assistant, more special needs provision, keeping the pupil-teacher ratio down, reducing staff contact time?

As New Labour continues to open up the market, the prospectus culture will infect parental choice. As diversity and difference are celebrated to woo these parents, the marketing strategy will be difficult to resist; the community theatre, the astroturf, the lap-top computer for each child.

Read your prospectus with care and caution. Deconstruct the values of the school and ask difficult questions - lots and lots of them before you are seduced by school orchestras, Latin logos and boasts about loads of homework.

Kevin Morris is senior lecturer in education (English) at De Montfort university. He writes here in a personal capacity

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