Peter York On Ads: Brilliant! Turn the little sods into the selling point

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The Independent Online

Teachers are always getting bashed up. If you believed the tabloids you would assume state schools were like Baghdad, with kids attacking teachers and hulking brute parents attacking them too. The Government attacks teachers regularly, spinning the school league tables to suggest incompetent teachers are failing the Bash Street kids.

And, of course, the tabloids are forever re-writing the Why Oh Why story about the leftie 1970s types who try to impose their monstrous raving loony ideas on tender young minds. Social and gender equality, fair dos for gays. And they won't support Britain and the flag on Empire Day.

It's political correctness gone mad innit (every journalism student should be tested on their ability to turn out this op-ed piece - about 1,250 words - perfectly, in an hour or less, using the phrases "contempt for ordinary-middle-class values", "little Alison, eight, went home in floods of tears", "The deputy headmaster made the children celebrate Diwali, but refused to acknowledge Christmas".)

Teachers with a huge range of political views. Some hate the tabloids, but some must write those anonymous letters that say, "you won't believe what's happening at my school".

Many will be as committed and saintly as they say (probably more of them now that the job opportunities for educated people - women especially - are so much greater than in the 1960s and 1970s). Some must want their charges nuked. Others must long to transfer to private schools with well-behaved children whose parents believe in learning.

No one really knows whether Tony Blair's triple E promise of 1997 will work, only that, like the health service, there's certainly been more investment. The city academies look dazzlingly huge and corporate. Do children like the shiny bigness - the pictures I've seen remind me of Bloomberg's City headquarters - or is it intimidating? How are we really doing in the educational Euro-league? Have the schools failed Vicky Pollard and Waynetta Slob, leaving them at 13 to have three babies in council flats, or are the parents to blame?

The completely unfictional Jade Goody - the most financially successful Big Brother contestant - was initially famous for not knowing things; where East Anglia was for instance. This maddened some commentators who said we shouldn't worship ignorance, but made Julie Burchill practically canonise Goody for her working-class Woman's Struggle. Will the next generation of Goodies get PhDs, or open hairdressers like their mums?

Like the Army, teacher recruitment advertising is always up-dating its appeals. They spent years building up teacherly self-esteem and attacking the idea of teaching as a default job for people who can't do ("those who can ... teach").

Now they're focussing on a new attraction - the absolute deliciousness of children, their funniness, honesty, lack of politics and pretence. In one treatment a 16-year-old boy in uniformish clothes in a modern well-equipped classroom - lots of stimulation and high-tech implied - launches into a number about the mind-blowing immensity of the universe: "It makes you feel proper, proper small." It looks unprompted and real, and he's engaging (as well as sounding like the Paul Whitehouse teenage character who finds everything Brilliant.) "Work with the most thoughtful people in the world" they say on-screen "teach physics".

In the other treatment a parade of 10-14-ish kinds - nice, ordinary and multi-culti assorted - don't know the answer to an unheard question. They say "erm", they look winsomely blank, they chew their lips. But they don't say, "it was on the tip of my tongue". And that's the pitch, "working with people who don't pretend to know the answers". People who are more tractable than horrible defensive adults. The background look is good out-of-town comp, with views on to a playing field (not sold off for development yet). And by implication, no 10-year-old drug fiends, knife carriers or early pregnancies here.

It's a difficult one. Lots of teachers probably do prefer working with children to adults, but advertising that externalises that theme is borderline uncomfortable in 2006. And we don't know what they've been asked either. What if it'd been to name the Prime Minister?