Why brands should embrace education and support schools and teachers
A view from Sam Mercer

Why brands should embrace education and support schools and teachers

When schools closed this year, classroom education received a whole new level of appreciation. But the closures also highlighted shortfalls in the education system, and this is something brands can help fix.

Did we need a global health pandemic to appreciate the importance of education? To understand just how fundamental face-to-face classroom teaching was for children’s learning and indeed wellbeing? In many ways, it would appear we did. 

But within this context of greater appreciation of what educating the nation’s children entails, a very different landscape is evolving in which organisations can provide useful support to education and, more specifically, teachers. 

In the past, marketing in schools has often been an uneasy alliance – an uncomfortable accommodation of brands and businesses looking to extend their profile. But the way in which brands support schools has developed considerably over the past 10 years as they have understood how they can add value to the curriculum.

A place for brands?

As the pandemic exposed, there are shortfalls in our education system – especially when it comes to access to technology, be that at home or within the school. As Microsoft’s research found, just 1% of state primary schools have devices their students can take home. 

Brand-led education programmes that are respectful, that respond to specific teacher and student needs, rather than being an extension of an advertising campaign or a vaguely creative tool to drive sales, could help boost the next generation’s skills.  

It has also exposed the importance of education. Currently about 400,000 students are out of school because of outbreaks and a recent Ofsted report identified how children’s basic skills and learning regressed during the first lockdown. Despite the terrible impact of the pandemic on young people’s lives and their learning, their faith in education has not been shaken. In our recent survey of 1,000 16- to 24-year-olds, the vast majority (90%) still agreed that education was an important way of improving their prospects. 

Indeed, the government wants to "level up" in all walks of life, including education. Last Thursday [3 December] it announced its latest measures to boost fairness and support children sitting GCSEs and A Level exams next summer.  

So, amid this broad recognition that students have lost out, companies can help. The wealth of knowledge within the UK’s leading businesses, the understanding of the skills young people entering the workforce will need and the sheer access to the latest technology and software is something that, if better shared with students, will benefit everyone. 

Yes, there is brand gain in this – the chance to craft purposeful education programmes that have relevance, authenticity and emotional connection with specific business outcomes – but that does not negate the gain for others, too. 

The role of brands in young people’s lives has shifted from previous generations and this may well account for their level of ease around businesses getting involved in school programmes. Our survey also showed that six in 10 young people said there was a role for brands in supporting their education. Two-thirds of respondents felt hopeful or pleased that brands were getting involved, with only 21% saying they were suspicious or sceptical of business involvement.

Brands that are getting it right

There are a number of exemplary examples of businesses leading the way in how brands can support educational activity. Siemens’ holistic education programme offers teachers resources, school events and parental DIY activities to promote STEM subjects. Bupa’s Wellbeing for Educators initiative, offers coaching to help embed wellbeing cultures in schools for staff. While BT’s Skills for Tomorrow scheme providing training and skills to help break down barriers and narrow the digital skills gap, 

Brands can bring all their understanding of reaching broad bases to achieve significant scale in their activity. BT’s goal is to help 10 million people, families and businesses across the UK, while its specific Barefoot Computing programme to boost computing and coding has so far helped more than 70,000 teachers and aims to reach three million more by 2025. 

It shouldn’t be forgotten that business and education do not exist in isolation. People work in businesses, they send their children to school, they have friends and family who are teachers – our communities are entwined and do not exist in vacuums.

In Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer, it identified that businesses needed to recognise the imperative of serving the interests of all their stakeholders, not just their shareholders.

The majority (87%) of those it questioned (a mix of the general population and "informed" respondents) said that customers, employees and communities are more important than shareholders to a company’s long-term success. Brand activity supporting education and future skills is surely an inherent part of that.

Respect the teachers

It can be daunting for brands to enter this world – the fear of getting it wrong can stifle action – but by taking a relevant approach that resonates with the brand, the outcomes can be assured. 

The best educational programmes are relatable and representative, they play to a brand’s strengths and respect that teachers know what’s best for their students, they focus on what the teacher needs, what will help them in their day-to-day activity and lighten their load and they inspire students by adding value in a meaningful way. 

In an uncertain future, everyone needs to be ready for life-long learning – but especially this generation of young people. The landscape is right for brands to start helping in that process, for the benefit of everyone’s future. 

Sam Mercer is co-founder of Hopscotch Consulting