Not for sale

Schools should be a sanctuary from the incessant media barrage kids now face in the outside world. However, recently, bins emblazoned with the Coca-Cola logo have appeared on my school’s grounds, and in our classrooms JazzyBooks (exercise books with advert interludes) are handed out to students. I had serious concerns about this development and wanted the advertising removed so I decided, with friends, to organise a petition to gauge the strength of opinion in the school. There was overwhelming support for the cause, with many people expressing their outrage at the presence of corporate advertising. Within two weeks we had collected 500 signatures including roughly 40 members of staff.

These are not empty concerns. The bins it seems are simply the tip of the iceberg – a small part of a new phenomenon emerging in the UK: corporations directly penetrating school life. They sponsor educational materials, advertise on school grounds and totally run some schools. New Labour says it wishes to create “the most business-friendly atmosphere in the world”, at the expense, it seems, of education.

The educational materials provided by companies contain information such as “Chocolate is a wholesome food that really tastes good. It is fun to eat at any time of the day and gives you energy and important nutrients”. The Cadbury company, which produces this, has also recently started a campaign where children can get free sports equipment for their school by eating chocolate. A child would have to consume 5,440 chocolate bars – over 33kg of fat and nearly 1.25 million calories – to qualify for a free set of volleyball posts. It has even been reported that schools are being paid to give questionnaires to children asking them to name their favourite fast food restaurant.

As if this is not enough, corporations have increasingly taken over the control of schools. The government has been only too happy to hand over children’s education to profit-making enterprises. Education action zones, which are scattered across Britain, are part-run by companies such as Shell, Cadbury-Schweppes, McDonald’s and British Aerospace. Fast food firms, oil producers and weapons manufacturers now compromise our education.

All this has disturbing parallels in the US where schooling is now a commodity, traded on the stock market and worth $650bn. The infamous Channel One that is beamed directly into millions of classrooms in America with corporations paying up to $200,000 for a 30-second commercial could, if we don’t act now, become an acceptable part of British school life as well.

When confronted with the petition, our head teacher agreed to our demands. The logos on the vending machines will be covered and the bins decorated. We have been invited to address a governors’ meeting which will decide the fate of the JazzyBooks as well as how we will deal with corporate advertising in the future.

This victory is a small but important one: it shows that we do still have the power to influence our school life. But it will take continuous pressure from students and staff to stop the government allowing business to turn education into a sales pitch.

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