Throw in the kitchen towel

18th February 2005 at 00:00
Whichever hat I wear - parent, governor, concerned consumer - my immediate reaction to any sort of commercial sponsorship in schools is always the same. No, never, not for all the brand-new, shiny resources in the world.

My second reaction is usually more pragmatic, particularly when the vouchers come attached to stuff you have to buy anyway. I need washing powder, the school needs paint brushes; my children say they "need" a couple of bars of chocolate a week, the school needs sports equipment.

Obviously, there is the moral issue of advertising to children or through them, to parents. But even if we all stop buying into voucher schemes, I cannot see the likes of Cadbury, Proctor and Gamble et al shrugging their shoulders and saying: "Oh well, that didn't work. Perhaps we should stop advertising through children entirely." They will always find a way, until prohibited by law. These are the arguments I use when a governors' meeting considers whether we want to ask our office staff to spend more of their time counting greasy, sticky bits of paper. The only scheme that we refused to join was that launched by Nestle. Hurray for the Baby Milk Action team!

But which head of department can resist the lure of advertising packs that come disguised as curriculum resources? The science of soap-making, the design and technology of cereal, the story of smell - all complete with logo-ed lesson plans, worksheets and resources. These, surely, are infinitely more subtle forms of marketing. Can children withstand the subliminal reinforcement of a brandmark on every page? These were my fears when my 11-year-old brought home her science homework, courtesy of Bounty, the kitchen-towel people.

Wandering between kitchen table and sink, brandishing sheets of absorbent paper, diligent daughter measured, teaspoon by teaspoon, how much liquid of various sorts the paper could hold without disintegrating. I could almost imagine her in the supermarket: "This is, scientifically, so much better than what you usually buy, mother."

I later snuck a peek at the results of her experiments. What I read eased my fears of innocence besmirched and struck a blow against the Goliath marketeers. The measurements were all legibly laid out in best handwriting and under the heading "conclusions" was written: "Bounty is rubbish."

Alison Shepherd is a chair of governors at a primary school in London.Feeling aggrieved? Write us a 400-word Sounding Off and get paid as you grumble. Send it to

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