I remember the days when the local paper would run a 4 page pull out advertising feature on private schools in the area. You could peruse which one had photos showing the most wholesome looking 10-year-old violin players or the happiest looking 13 year olds in boaters smiling out at you. And with each ad was the date of their open day. “Give us a few thousand every term and we will protect your offspring from having to mix with pupils who didn’t have their mild dyslexia certified by a private consultant.” was the unspoken deal.
You could easily understand why St Blazer-on-the-Wold prep school had to advertise; they were a business, they needed more bums on seats, they weren’t protected by the cushion of an LEA. It was business folks. What else did you expect?
But slowly and surely with the cushion withdrawn and Head Teachers wanting to prove themselves both on the OFSTED report as well as with numbers on roll, more and more emphasis is being put on state schools and their marketing arm “Best results ever” hangs the banner over the reception block at the front of school”. The Deputy head is desperately trying to contact the picture editor on the erstwhile local rag. He wants to ensure the picture that goes into the GCSE exam result article isn’t the one that includes the boy who dyed his hair purple. Local demographics are closely studied to see how future numbers might be rising or, heaven forbid, falling.
While inside school meetings, the Head is talking about our “competitor” schools and cursing that the comprehensive on the edge of town has managed to lift up its pass rate to within a few percentage points of his own. He stands up in front of the staff and talks about key marginals, before having to explain to confused teachers this is the new term for C/D borderlines. “Aren’t we supposed to be moving away from focusing on such a niche group?” asks the Head of Science. “If bloody New Suburbs Academy can get 68%, then so can we. And if we don’t push the D kids then parents will choose the other school, not us and all your jobs will be on the line.”
So, once more, the majority of pupils are ignored in favour of whole school figures. And extra cash is spent on flashier display cabinets, lighting and paintwork in reception, rather than on anything for a classroom. Two of the smoother skinned and slimmer y10 female pupils are called out of lessons when the professional photographer comes round (“Do you play the viola? No? Ah well could you hold one anyway and stand under that chestnut tree while I take the shots? There’s a dear”) And the local paper gleefully rubs its hands as more of the academy budget is siphoned off to pay for a half page spread in the local state schools 4 page pull out advertising feature.