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Where does the boundary between CSR and branding in the classroom lie?
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The Independent Online

Nobody should be very surprised that the world of advertising and branding has moved into the classroom. After all, we live in a consumerist society where seemingly every space is seen as a marketing opportunity.

Nobody should be very surprised that the world of advertising and branding has moved into the classroom. After all, we live in a consumerist society where seemingly every space is seen as a marketing opportunity. And it does not require much of a leap of imagination to see somebody arguing that it is better for all those school walls to be emblazoned with well-known brands than with graffiti, particularly if taking this approach brings income to school.

Indeed, this financial aspect cannot be lightly dismissed. Education authorities have become so cash-strapped in recent years that it is understandable that they and headteachers look upon companies seeking to do their bit for the community by supporting education as something akin to gift horses. Hence the success of schemes such as Walkers Crisps' "Free Books For Schools", which since its launch in 1999 has provided schools throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland with more than six million books worth £32.5m and Tesco's Computers for Schools, which over the course of a decade has donated more than £70m of information technology equipment to about two-thirds of the nation's schools.

But hugely beneficial as such schemes have been in filling the gap left by successive governments' unwillingness to provide all of the necessary funding, local authorities, teachers and parents need to be wary of accepting all such offers.

Predictably, the situation here is not yet as serious as in the United States, where big corporations' marketing campaigns to school children have attracted the interest of such commentators as Naomi Klein and Michael Moore. Both chronicle how schools are signing exclusive deals with soft drinks companies and how fast-food chains are taking over school cafeterias.

Just as predictably, things in Britain are moving in that direction. For example, Procter & Gamble's Sunny Delight, a drink that has been attacked as not being as healthy as claimed, has supported schools basketball competitions.

This is a complicated issue with no easy answers. Schools and business are both parts of society and there is a lot to be said for building relationships so that each can learn from the other. But when those involved in education are invited to form relationships with companies, they need to think not just of the financial windfall but also of whether the link is appropriate. In particular, they should be careful not to send out mixed or contradictory messages and to put themselves into positions where objectivity in the classroom is at risk.

Roger Trapp is a speaker at today's Partners in Citizenship conference

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