Nobody forgets a good advert

Teaching vacancies are increasing while applications fall short of Government targets. Is advertising the answer, or do better pay and conditions hold the key?
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The Independent Online
A young boy in school uniform lies, arms outstretched on the sand, among serried ranks of books, their pages blowing in the wind.

Cut to a classroom, with rows of neat, well-behaved children looking in rapt attention at their teacher, eyes misty, and mouths open.

The teacher, a twinkle in his eye, smiles as he winds up a model of the Wright brothers' flying machine. The youngsters imagine art house monochrome scene of celebrations as the Kitty Hawk took to the air.

Mood music swells as the children twirl little wooden propellers into the air, demonstrating the theory of flight.

The message: nobody forgets a good teacher. The question: could you inspire young minds?

Tony Blair is hoping nobody will forget a good advert. The romanticised 30-second film has been playing to crowds of popcorn-eating moviegoers for the past three weeks - the second phase in the Government's marketing masterplan to fill thousands of vacancies in the nation's schools, which are threatening to undermine all their efforts to improve educational standards.

But is this idealised image going to cut any ice with a public weaned on an image of the teacher as an underpaid, overburdened individual, battling with disruption and desperate to cut and run if a decent premature retirement package is on offer?

Certainly some teacher trainers don't think so, and they know more about the motives of what makes people go into teaching than most.

Professor Ted Wragg of Exeter University, says: "I think cinema advertising is a complete waste of money. If you try to persuade people that there are no problems, that life is a breeze, you are doing people a disservice, because it really is a tough job. Teaching does have its romantic moments, but it is hard, stressful and demanding. It's not a job for the unmotivated. It's a job for stayers, not for sprinters."

The Teacher Training Agency would argue that its advertising campaign is for stayers, not sprinters. These new ads are simply the latest round in a five-year plan to raise the profile of teaching and re-educate a sceptical public. Newspaper adverts and posters on hoardings and bus shelters will follow, and a direct appeal on prime-time television has not been ruled out.

Stephen Hillier, who is the deputy chief executive of the Teacher Training Agency, says: "We are not saying that every moment in teaching is a magic moment like that shown in the advert. Because the film is shot through the mind's eye of a young person, there is a stylised approach, but it's not romantic.

"The new commercial is much more a direct approach to people to attract them into teaching. We have to move in stages. First we built up the climate and got people talking about their best teachers. The issue is: how do we move from creating a groundswell of positive feeling to getting more people in?"

The widescreen adverts, dubbed The Wright Stuff by their creators, advertising agency Delaney Fletcher Bozell, better known for its cow-populated Ambrosia creamed rice pudding ads, are designed to capitalise on last year's much- hyped campaign which saw celebrities from Tony Blair to England goalkeeper David Seaman naming the favourite teachers from their own days at school.

Other advertising agencies (see box) think they are on the right tracks.

The first round of ads more than doubled enquiries to the TTA about teaching, but it is not known how many of these converted into actual students on teacher-training courses. Recruitment to secondary training courses last year missed Government targets by 4,700, representing nearly a quarter of all the trainees required.

December's Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession was designed to show that schools could provide a decent career and offer decent money. The new adverts are supposed, in part, to capitalise on that.

As well as attracting young people, the TTA's campaign also has to appeal to the estimated 400,000 qualified teachers who have left the profession, to encourage at least some of them to come back.

How do you do it? David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, has promised reform of pay, offering classroom salaries of up to pounds 40,000; the equivalent of senior management posts in many companies.

But Stephen Hillier argues that there's more to life than money. "Teachers' standing in the community is very important. Whenever we have surveyed the general public in the past about how they regard teaching, it always comes second after doctors and well above anything else you care to mention.

"There are people who will always come into teaching motivated by a sense of public service. But teaching has to appeal to people who are thinking `shall I become an accountant or shall I become a lawyer?' We have to be saying that if you're good enough to do those things, you are good enough to become a teacher."

The teacher trainers remain sceptical. For some of them, encouraging people to think of being teachers is not the problem. Instead, practical help is more important than glossy images to tempt trainees.

Andy Hudson, course leader for the secondary Post-Graduate Certificate of Education course at the London University Institute of Education, says many more would come into teaching, if the circumstances were right.

"We have seen considerable numbers of people coming to us out of the financial sector who want a career change. They look at the prospect of a training year without remuneration and then back off. They walk away because we can't offer them support for their training year."

Others argue that people decide to become teachers because they think it is a job worth doing and their own experiences as school pupils will play a large part in that. Glossy ads tugging the heart-strings won't necessarily attract the right types into teaching.

Ted Wragg says that the most common reason people give for wanting to become a teacher is that they love their subject and want to work with children. "Many of them refer to one of their own teachers, and we do get people who say such and such a teacher changed my life.

"The thing is to improve the conditions of teachers so they do not appear so brow-beaten."

But there are voices that argue that there may not be a teacher shortage at all. Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Liverpool University, has pointed to large numbers of mature students entering teacher training, but being unable to find work when they leave. Fifteen thousand teachers are unemployed, but Professor Smithers estimates the actual pool of out-of-work teaching staff may be much larger.

"It is virtually impossible to meet the targets on the basis of current graduates; it would mean 40 per cent of maths graduates would have to become teachers.

"There is probably at least a year's supply of teachers out there."

WHAT THE PROFESSIONALS THINK

Paul Bainsfair is chairman of advertising agency TBWA, whose credits include French Connection's FCUK advertisements, Sony Playstation, Nat West, Nissan and Goldfish

"THIS KIND of advertising is all about the difference between money wages and real wages. Real wages are about real satisfaction and the way your life can be improved by choosing to do one thing rather than going down another road and being a member of the Flaming Ferraris and earning a lot of money.

In the case of teachers the sort of route that has been exploited with Nobody Forgets a Good Teacher is likely to be the most fertile.

There's no doubt that there are people, probably a large number of people growing up or teachers, who have given up, who get a fantastic buzz from teaching and showing people things.

The classic example is the film Dead Poet's Society, which shows the teacher struggling against the children's boring existence and converting them. I defy anyone not to get a slightly watery eye watching this movie.

You can't expect change too quickly. If you are advertising a promotion at Currys to sell a washing machine and sales do not go up, then the advertising has not been a success; but with something like teaching there are a number of other factors at play.

There has been a massive change in attitudes towards drink-driving. If you go back to the start in the Seventies, all the adverts were about fines. It took quite a few years, but once they sorted it out and people started writing ads about the effects of drink-driving, and the reaction of other people to drink-drivers, the difference was quite remarkable.

It's quite easy to change awareness of something. Its slightly more difficult to change attitudes, but to get behaviour changes is always the most difficult."

Charlie Makin is managing partner of Booth Lockett Makin, whose clients include Thomas Cook and Hertz

"WHAT MOST advertisers would be looking to do is to appeal to the emotional side of people and the job. You need to find something which is motivational about the job which will appeal to people.

Cinema advertising is interesting because the strength is the 16-to-25 age group. You are not relying on people responding directly but on creating some kind of perception.

Something like this has to be long term; two to three years minimum. You are stuck with this kind of time frame because you are shifting attitudes, which you can't do quickly. It has to be a very slow-burn.

An advert is never going to persuade somebody to be a teacher. However, it might get somebody to consider it as one option. It's unrealistic to think of advertising as propaganda. But what it can do is be a reminder."

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