Pin your hopes on your lapel

24th May 1996 at 01:00
Gerald Haigh visits a school where the skills of running a company making badges extend right across the curriculum. Everyone likes badges. Once you look for them, you see them everywhere. The discreet little gearwheel of Rotary International, for example, pops up all the time on the lapels of people being interviewed on television. My own favourite is my late uncle's lapel badge of the National Union of Mineworkers, South Yorkshire Area, which I sometimes wear on Remembrance Sunday (in memory of when we had mines) along with my Malaya General Service Medal and my bronze for Latin American Dancing.

Children, of course, have always been particularly addicted. This being so, what better idea than to combine a whole range of aims and motives by having pupils make and sell their own badges? The product is wholesome and attractive. Producing it involves designing and making skills. Selling it calls on business studies and mathematics. And the whole operation demands teamwork and co-operation. The real icing on the cake, though, is the prospect of making money for school or departmental funds.

All of these factors were at work when teachers and pupils at Bishop Perowne High School in Worcester started up the BPHS Badge Company some six years ago. Now, the badge company typically makes Pounds 1,000 worth of badges a year, and has put about Pounds 500 in the bank since last summer holiday.

It was not fund-raising, though, which provided the initial impetus. Penny Davies, now acting head of design and technology at the school, was a textiles teacher in the late Eighties when she saw a badge-making machine on the stand of London Emblem at the Education Show. It struck her that the technique Q which, briefly, involves encasing a small picture, or some graphics, in plastic Q might be useful for presenting children's work.

"In textiles, a less able child will often do a very small piece of work. By putting it in a badge, I thought that we might be able to make it into something special."

Sue Morse, of London Emblem, was running the stand that day. "I didn't know whether it would work with textiles, so I ripped the hem off my skirt there and then and tried it".

It worked, in fact, very well Q children were able to see their miniature textile pieces made into badges that they could wear.

Penny bought a badge machine for her department, and over the years there developed what is, in effect, a "mini-enterprise" of the kind that began to be very popular in schools at that time.

As Bill Alloway, the computer systems manager at Bishop Perowne, points out "It's the ideal product Q low cost, easy to sell and the kids love it".

London Emblem emphasises the mini-enterprise dimension by publishing a photocopiable workbook that presents the whole operation in industrial terms, with chapters on, for example, "Finance Facts", "Batch Production", "Stock Control" and "Business Plan".

At Bishop Perowne, the Badge Company operates at lunchtimes, and is run by a group of about 30 pupils, although by no means all of them are active at any one time. They take orders, create designs where necessary, promote the company ("You specify it; we'll make it," says their brochure) and make the badges.

Much of the work derives from orders within school Q occasions such as Mother's Day, for example, are marked by special badges. There is outside work too, however. There are anti-drugs campaigns ("say no to drugs") and the identification badges which the school office at Bishop Perowne issues to visitors.

Enterprising pupils have struck deals with other schools and the team commonly takes the badge making equipment to summer fairs. "We use a basic design and leave a space to print the person's name," explained Year 10 pupil Lisa Haynes-Till, who has been a leading member of the team.

The actual badge making looks very easy. The circular graphic is assembled, with the two parts of the badge Q back and transparent front Q as a sort of sandwich and squeezed together in a two stage operation in a hand press. The skill, and therefore the learning opportunities, come from designing badges and from making decisions about running the business. Design opportunities are open-ended.

London Emblem supplies a large number of standard designs, but in-house designs are often very appropriate. Infant and nursery children, for example, can (with some adult help on the machine) put their own little pictures into badges, something which they enjoy very much.

The opportunity to put virtually any kind of picture or graphic into a badge is very attractive to children and teachers. Special Berol paints, for instance, which are available from London Emblem, stay fluid within the badge so that you get a colourful squidgy effect behind the transparent plastic front.

The business decisions are very realistic and the effects easy to see. "There are lessons to learn about stock control, for example," says Bill Alloway. "A school can't afford to hold a lot of materials in stock, so we effectively run a 'Just In Time' system." (In industry, "Just In Time" means that you have a stream of materials arriving and never sitting in warehouses. It requires extremely accurate forecasting and control if production is not to be held up.) There are also judgments about pricing, and children have had to learn, for example, just what their customers are prepared to pay for a plastic badge.

London Emblem plc, Emblem House, Blenheim Road, Longmead Industrial Estate, Epsom, Surrey KT19 9AP, tel: 01372 645433


How much to get started? A starter pack from London Emblem, including the machine and materials for 500 badges will cost either Pounds 349.50 or Pounds 399.50, depending on whether you go for the Art and Design Kit or the Business and Technology Kit. (Art and Design has specialist Berol paints; Business and Technology has a different model of badge maker and includes the Badge Works handbook, which is also available separately at Pounds 15)

Where will the start-up money come from? In many schools the PTA helps. This is an ideal venture for parental involvement.

Will we make money? Bill Alloway says, "You would have to be very inept to lose money." Realistically, even with a slow start, you will recoup costs within 18 months.

What if the machine breaks? They are simple hand-powered devices. There are 15-year-old machines still working. Everything on them is easily replaceable. All parts are available.

Can we get badge materials easily? Bishop Perowne says that the service from London Emblem is quick and efficient.

Is it just badges? They are the main product, but there are also others, including keyrings and small mirrors which can be made and sold.

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