The plainer the English, the better;School Prospectus Awards

23rd May 1997 at 01:00
A thousand teachers have written on a million exam papers: "Must pay attention to detail." The same advice could be given to the schools which have produced prospectuses.

We saw the best, which were shortlisted in the three categories - primary, secondary and special. But even here, lots of imperfections crept through.

Computers and word processors can make for sloppiness - punctuation missed, sometimes a whole word missing or a basic grammatical error creeping in. These are the sort of things that should be picked up on careful checking by a number of people.

But the basic lack of attention to detail is in recognising what a prospectus aims to be. It is an advertisement, a marketing tool. It is there to sell, to give information, to create an accurate, positive image of the school.

Prospectus after prospectus failed in this aim. At the Plain English Campaign, we feel that the language, the message and the concept must all be warm and easy to understand.

The message from the headteacher is crucial. It should be in plain English, of course. It should be informative and inviting. It should, above all, convey warmth and sincerity. The head should borrow every advertising tool there is to establish contact with the new reader. If a lot of prospectuses failed in this, even more failed in marshalling the best things about their school. Its aims in a dozen bullet points can convey more than pages of text. The aims, the mission statement, perhaps excerpts from an OFSTED report...all should be up-front, to create the best impression.

Our campaign deplores sloppy or pompous writing. But too many teachers still feel plain English is somehow not good enough for well-educated readers. We say that is nonsense. The plainer, the more understandable, the better!

A crystal clear message in a prospectus does more than just inform parents and future pupils. It can sum up in a few words the school's philosophy - and a head who can get that message over internally should be very happy.

Overall, the prospectuses were better designed than last year. Desktop publishing has come a long way. A few were produced professionally (and very expensively). Again, with design there were some gaps in attention to detail. Pictures are a puzzle without captions. Cluttered design can make it difficult for the reader to find the message.

One or two prospectuses used words from pupils themselves - an excellent touch. Others used individual teachers or heads of department to flesh out details of the curriculum. Another good personal touch.

One prospectus used a Q amp; A section, a welcome acceptance of the sort of modern technique used in advertising or car brochures. Readers expect this sort of thing. The more informative and informal the prospectus is, the more effective it will be.


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