The PR Wars

Lyn Yates

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At the start of the new school year, the one group who must surely be happy with the state of education in Victoria are the newspaper proprietors for their advertising revenues seem to have been given a healthy boost.

For one thing, the Victorian Government has been running a series of display advertisements headed 'Victorian Education, the facts'. Sorry, 'Victorian Education' and 'Victorian Government' are my own rather old-fashioned terms: officially, it's actually "Education Victoria" and "Victoria on the Move" and their respective logos that are bringing us these gems. And it's not just repeated advertisements in the papers for it's also pamphlets, a web site, and a hotline.

The 'facts' are actually a series of selected statistical snippets, designed to demonstrate just how much our government has been doing for 'government school education'. They boast about their increased spending on schools, the lavish computer provision, the rises in teachers' salaries, the class sizes, the retention rates, and so on. Only yesterday they were boasting about how much they had reduced spending on education, but it seems that they are beginning to worry that the electors might not be totally reassured by this line so are taking a different angle.

Presumably the advertisements are not intended for the people who actually use the 'government schools'. Incidentally, this is an interesting change of terminology as these used to be known as state schools, or public schools. Now, instead of the idea that there are schools funded by citizen taxpayers and open to all, there is an air of a benevolent government choosing out of the goodness of its heart to provide some of its own schools.

The people who actually use the schools, however, know how well or poorly they are actually being funded, and are more likely to believe their own experiences than anything they read in an advertisement. So the ads presumably are a shot across the bows intended to reinforce the opinions of those who don't actually use these schools, and designed to play this down as an issue in any forthcoming election.

Not to be outdone, a host of the private schools are similarly spending their resources to line the pockets of the media industry - not just newspapers here but radio and cinema advertisements are also quite popular.

Presumably this advertising is cost-effective, but to this reader the offerings of different schools, the photographs of fresh-faced and smiling students, the boasts of successful results, all look remarkably similar.

Lyn Yates, School of Education, La Trobe University.

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