Lessons with a logo 'tainted by advertising'

Changes in education : Companies stand accused of exposing children to commercial messages in the guise of learning materials
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The Independent Online
Businesses are targeting pupils with educational packs which are biased, plastered with company logos and encourage children to eat unhealthy food, a survey from the National Consumer Council claims.

The council says there has been an explosion of commercially sponsored resources for schools in the last few years - around 5,000 for technology alone - with industry spending about pounds 300m a year.

It is issuing new guidelines for teachers, governors and parents after finding a worrying number of flaws in educational packs.

The NCC survey showed:

t Some firms are using sponsored material to persuade pupils to eat unhealthy food;

t Other companies are plastering their name and logos all over the materials;

t Some are using the materials to extol the virtues of their own products;

t Some fail to mention basic arguments against their activities.

Cadbury's World of Chocolate resource pack for 11- to 12-year-olds says: "Chocolate is fun to eat at any time of the day and gives you energy and important nutrients."

A Halifax Building Society pack on personal finance for school students is "a very useful resource" but says: "a Halifax Cardcash account is ideal if you're working part-time."

Energy and the Environment, from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, fails to mention "the one key drawback of nuclear waste, that it takes up to hundreds of thousands of years or more to decay and become safe".

Materials from the Meat and Livestock Commission contain no recipes which do not use meat and include "Ideas for turning pizzas into Meatzas".

In a Kellogg's pack providing lively activities on health, Kellogg's is the only brand-named product in the illustration.

Voucher schemes for computers and schoolbags run by Tesco's and Sainsbury's respectively "reward schools where parents are pestered to shop - in particular, in supermarkets". They disadvantage pupils who do not live near a supermarket.

David Hatch, the council's chairman, said that commercially-sponsored teaching packs could be invaluable at a time when school funds were scarce but argued for a debate on "the rising tide of US-style commercialism in our classrooms to ensure commercial sponsorship does not take the place of state funding for core education activities."

In the United States, he said, pupils were bombarded with advertisements throughout the day, sometimes on compulsory television programmes which included advertising. "We want to protect British classrooms from these excesses. The classroom should be a place of learning, not a free-for- all for business interests."

A spokesman for the Halifax said: "The educational value of our materials for schools far outweighs any advertising benefits to us. There is a high take-up by schools of the pack."

Tesco's said: "The computer vouchers are an added bonus issued for every pounds 25 spent in a single transaction. Tesco only sends school information packs to schools in areas where there is a high percentage of Tesco shoppers. Therefore parents are already highly likely to shop at a Tesco store."

Cadbury's said: "Our resource pack has been compiled in close conjunction with a number of teachers along with the Birmingham Education Partnership. It addresses key stages in the National Curriculum and covers areas such as maths, science, geography and history in an interesting format."

However, the NCC does commend Eastern Electricity's Electric Box for primary school science, which contains light bulbs and wire for circuits.

Materials from the Meat and Livestock Commission and the Food and Drink Federation are praised for including pictures of children from different races, while the Sugar Bureau produces information warning that too much sugar can contribute to tooth decay.

Where learning meets earning

t Cadbury's The World of Chocolate for 11- to 12-year-olds says: "Chocolate is a wholesome food that tastes really good. It is fun to eat at any time of the day and gives you energy and important nutrients that your body needs to work properly."

t A Halifax Building Society pack on personal finances is useful, but says: "If you're unsure about any aspects of your money or accounts, call into your local branch of the Halifax Building Society."

t A Duke of Edinburgh Award pack by Pedigree Petfoods, which makes Whiskas, says: "A steady diet of Whiskas kitten food provides a properly balanced source of nutrition for your kitten."

t Tesco's required parents to spend between pounds 125,000 and pounds 150,000 in its stores to buy one computer worth between pounds 1,000 and pounds 1,500.