Free Schools and Academy Trusts change advertising after ASA steps in

Janet Downs's picture
“Legal, decent, honest and truthful” – that’s what marketing is supposed to be. And you’d expect schools to make sure their marketing reached these standards.

But 43 objections about marketing from educational establishments were informally-resolved by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after the organisations agreed to amend or withdraw advertising following complaints in 2012.

The 43 rulings covered driving schools, distance learning, further and higher education establishments and a tiny number of independent schools. But 8 of the 43 rulings covered Free Schools and Academy Trusts.

The ASA doesn’t specify exactly what was wrong with the advertising – the reason is known in only one case – but all of these had to change their marketing after the ASA became involved:

Sandymoor School, a free school in Runcorn, amended its website.

Seckford Foundation Free Schools Trust had two complaints upheld about marketing on a third-party website. Beccles Free School, which is a Seckford Foundation school, used the word “outstanding” in its marketing before it had even opened.

Two complaints against the Maharishi Schools Trust Ltd in relation to the Maharishi Free School were upheld. These concerned marketing on two websites and in two printed publications. It’s not the first time Maharishi Free School has attracted objections. The Schools Adjudicator twice ruled against the school’s Admission Criteria in 2012. And the School failed to enter pupils for Key Stage 2 Sats despite the Funding Agreement making it clear that it should do so.

The BBG Academy Trust, formerly the BBG-Serco Academy Trust, which wants to change its existing middle school into a secondary free school in September 2013, had a complaint against a publication in the regional press upheld.

The Herefordshire Marches Federation of Academies amended or withdrew marketing in the regional press and on its own website after an ASA informal ruling.

The King’s School, Tynemouth, an independent school hoping to merge with an existing state-funded primary school to become an all-through academy sponsored by the Woodard Academies Trust in September 2013, was censured by the ASA for marketing in the regional press.

In 2011, there had been no rulings about advertising by any state school or academy trust. In 2012, there were eight listed on the ASA website. Six of these involved existing or proposed free schools.

Information given on a school’s website is considered to be marketing. It must be, “legal, decent, honest and truthful”. No school should fall below this standard. And if a school lapses accidentally, by over-enthusiastic exaggeration perhaps, it should publish a correction and apology.

Parents must be able to trust the information provided by schools if they are to make an informed choice about where to send their children.

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