Chainstore vouchers tighten big business grip on schools

'PESTER POWER' is about to hit parents in a big way. Schoolchildren and their mothers will be the targets this autumn of a series of sales promotions, launched under the banner of helping financially hard-pressed schools.

The sudden enthusiasm for 'school vouchers' by three chainstores and a fish-finger manufacturer follows the success of Tesco's 'Computers for Schools' promotion last year, but is bound to fuel the controversy over marketing pressures on schools. Many educationalists see such ploys as the latest example of a culture of commercialism affecting the education system.

Last week it was revealed that Coca-Cola machines are being installed in primary schools to help balance their budgets.

Between now and October, W H Smith, John Menzies, Boots and Bird's Eye will all be offering vouchers for school equipment with purchases. Three are offering books; the other, sports equipment. All the schemes are modelled on Tesco's computer voucher offer, which the store repeated in May.

'Pester power' - the ability of children to nag their parents into purchases they do not want - has become a significant marketing tool.

David Rebbitt, head of Uckfield Community School in East Sussex, is an enthusiastic fund-raiser but said: 'Tesco vouchers are a total load of eyewash. They were of no value to us at all. It is a smart marketing move on somebody's part. We collected the vouchers, but frankly it was mainly to make the parents feel they were doing some good for the school. If you really want to raise money you have to do it properly. This is piddling around at the edges.'

Uckfield, with 1,100 pupils, earns pounds 10,000 a year from commercial ventures, grants, sponsorship and advertising in school corridors.

Gethin Lewis, head of Gabalfa primary school, Cardiff, said: 'I have grave misgivings about a school being seen to promote a particular supermarket or shop. The stores are in it to make money. If they really wanted to support schools they would give the schools money or equipment instead of putting pressure on parents to shop with them.'

Some head teachers are sceptical about the vouchers because of the time and effort staff have to spend collecting them and filling in forms. The biggest criticism of the Tesco scheme is that it favoured schools in middle-class areas where parents could afford to spend more than pounds 25 at a time.

Rachel Hodgkin, policy officer of the National Children's Bureau, said: 'The inevitable consequence is that rich schools will get richer and poor schools poorer. It is grossly unfair. We ought to be very worried about this sort of thing. Computers and school library books are not frivolous luxuries and they should be statutory provision in schools. They should not be provided by supermarket chains.'

Few head teachers, however, have turned down the vouchers. Peter Wells, head of London's biggest comprehensive, Crown Woods School, said: 'We are approached all the time by firms wanting to get in on the act. Of course we will collect the vouchers. But we ended up giving 80 Tesco vouchers to Barnardo's because the computers would not have worked on our system.'

In the United States 'pester power' has spawned a textbook, 'Kids as Consumers - A Handbook of Marketing to Children' by James McNeal, which is regarded as the bible of teeny- consumerism.

Caroline Yaxley, a Norwich mother of four, said 'These vouchers have definitely led to competition between children to try to see who can take the most into school.

'They are a good idea, but as soon as my children see a Tesco they want to go in. Some parents are being pushed in to shop where they don't want to go.'

The store vouchers certainly do not seem to represent a bargain. Tesco gave away one voucher with every pounds 25 spent. To collect enough vouchers for a top-of-the- range computer, parents between them would have had to buy groceries worth pounds 125,000.

Last year the supermarket chain 'gave away' 3,000 computers and 10,000 other items worth pounds 3m after redeeming 20 million vouchers. But it acknowledges that the scheme is not altruism. 'We would not do a promotion like this if it was not profitable for us,' said Sylvia Laible, in charge of the scheme. 'The fact that we are doing it a second time round must mean something.'

(Table omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'