Sponsors Do Their Homework
Carter, Meg, The Independent (London, England)
BRITISH companies are turning to the classroom, not to brush up on skills but to conduct their business. Cuts in Government funding have persuaded many schools to abandon their aversion to commerce in the classroom and to accept the growing range of sponsored learning materials now offered by businesses trying to catch ever younger consumers. As a result, Ford, Commercial Union and British Nuclear Fuels were in Birmingham last week for The Education Show.
The annual event - which showcases latest educational materials - is becoming an important diary date for as many marketers as teachers. "Few companies would not now think of schools sponsorship when considering how to market themselves, or their products, to children," says Nick Fuller, managing director of Educational Communications, the educational sponsorship specialist. A growing number of businesses are becoming involved in sponsoring textbooks, project packs, computer software, videos and touring exhibitions, he says. "Schools are more commercial and open-minded than they have ever been."
Much has changed in a very short time. Seven years ago the Royal Bank of Scotland struck a sponsorship deal with Strathclyde education authority. For a year all exercise books in schools throughout the region carried the bank's brand name. However, the sponsorship was not continued. "We were perfectly happy but there were fears it might set a precedent for other companies whose message might be more controversial," a spokesman says. For example, a sweets or fizzy drinks manufacturer doing the same thing could have encouraged tooth decay.
Today, however, sponsored work sheets and a range of other materials provided free or at reduced cost have become commonplace. "Thatcher's view of the market place in the 1980s, combined with increased local management of schools, has had an amazing effect," says Tony Attwood, a former teacher who is now chairman of Hamilton House Mailings, which holds and manages direct mailing lists of teachers and schools. "Direct mail into schools has become big business."
About 75 per cent of the pounds l7bn spent each year by the Government on education goes on salaries, while the remaining 25 per cent is spent mainly on books and other learning materials, he explains. One thousand of Britain's 33,000 schools are grant maintained - funded directly by the Department of Education. But the majority of the rest, although under local authority control, are locally managed, so head teachers have a bigger say in allocating the school budget. "I think we're only scraping the surface of this potential market," Mr Attwood says.
One of the largest suppliers of sponsored learning materials is Educational Project Resources. …