Warning over schoolbags becoming commercial battleground

A Green councillor in Edinburgh has warned that pupil schoolbags are in danger of becoming a battleground for commercial interests.

Green Education spokesperson, Cllr Melanie Main, has submitted a motion to Edinburgh City Council’s Education Committee today (Tuesday 5 March) highlighting the way in which schools act as a route to parents for commercial companies offering all sorts of services.

Examples highlighted include offers of additional tutoring, out of hours activities, events and products. In some cases, it is known that the school or parent body has been offered financial incentives to pass on material.

Cllr Main says she is concerned that when parents get an email from the school or a flier home in a school bag it may seem to offer some implicit endorsement of the quality of the service offered when, in fact, no such vetting has taken place. The risk, she claims, is that parents and young people, are being directed to services that they do not need and that children from more disadvantaged homes get left behind.

She said:

“Parents get a lot of information home, either in school bags or through email correspondence. A lot of that is about core school activity: projects, homework, trips and events. It can be confusing also to get letters from head teachers about services requesting replies or adverts offering commercial services which seem to have the blessing of the school or City Council.

“On the one hand, some of this is pretty benign. I recognise the value of families being alerted to events in the community, sports clubs or specialist activity
which is not easily available in school. It can enhance the richness of the school experience.

“But, on the other hand, pressure can be such that it feeds anxiety in parents that they are not doing enough for their children and lead them to take up offers
that they neither need nor can afford. If tackling inequalities in education is important the Council needs to tread very warily indeed.

“That is why I am calling on the City Council to draw up a policy and clear guidelines for schools on where the boundaries lie. I really don’t want to see
children’s schoolbags becoming a battleground for commercial interests.”

The motion to Education, Children and Families Committee on 5 March is copied below

Councillor Main – Commercial Access to Parents and Children in Schools

“This committee notes that

1. commercial companies offering curriculum subject tutoring have been invited into primary schools to do ‘taster sessions’ in curriculum time classes.

2. some commercial tutoring companies offer financial incentives to Parent Councils and schools to encourage access to children and parents and to encourage parent to buy products and services.

3. schoolbag letters home to parents can give the impression that companies are endorsed by the Council. Information from some companies gives the impression that they are approved providers of services.

4. parents have expressed concerns that the commercial companies are being allowed direct access to them and their children by Edinburgh Schools.

Committee therefore requests that a report is prepared within one cycle setting out a clear policy for schools with regard to direct access to children and to
providing information to parents on offers of commercial services, with the presumption that such service offers should be restricted.”