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Pondering the Prospectus – Jonathan Brough, Hurlingham School

The school prospectus is a strange beast. Every school needs one. They’re a legal requirement, their contents are subject to scrutiny during school inspections and one would expect Headteachers to love creating them. After all, they’re an opportunity to show off the school and boast of its achievements. Surely no Head worth his or her salt would need to be asked twice?

Yet they’re a minefield; a paradox in every school’s budget. The production and distribution of a brochure is a major item of expenditure but usually has no, absolutely no, impact on teaching and learning which is, of course, the institution’s raison d’être. But every time the draft is changed and every time the photographer comes in, the charges pile up.


Some schools rebel, and rightly so. They hold the moral high ground and recognise that a true picture of the institution – and parents want a true picture, warts and all – can only be gained from a visit. (It is a wise educationalist indeed who recognises the most accurate illustration of a school’s pastoral care can be seen in the lunchroom and the toilet blocks – when you visit a school, you do ensure you ask to look where your guide doesn’t want you to go, don’t you?) They think that good use of the school website can provide prospective parents with all the factual information they need, and at a fraction of the cost of a glossy brochure. So they take not only a stance, but a deep breath too. Armed with only a long-arm stapler, some copy paper, A4 card and a glowing feeling of environmental awareness, they daringly approach the photocopier.

That’s what the school I lead has always done. “Come and look round!” we say, “Let us know if you’d like to see anything in particular! Talk to the children! Devour every page of our website! Ask us all your questions! Learn all our secrets! . . . Oh and,

So the time came for careful thought in a darkened room. We needed something new, something different and – above all – something valuable. If we were going to invest school funds in this project, its outcome should benefit children. That’s what we do; it’s why we’re here. Yes, the main job of a brochure has to be to attract new families, but surely we could do it in a way that had real educational worth? Suddenly I went back a few decades and recalled one of my earliest childhood memories. I saw myself with my mother, sharing an enormous Enid Blyton book (I presume it was only A4, and I doubt myself about the author, not immediately associating her with twee anthropomorphism, but our minds play tricks on us,) in which an exceptionally annoying kitten was attempting to teach us all how to be a teacher’s pet. ‘“Wipe the blackboard, kitten cat,” said the prim Siamese teacher, “and make it clean for me!” I remember, four-year-old that I was, being absolutely horrified! This thing called school that I was about to encounter – surely it was a form of legal slavery! Why on Earth couldn’t she wipe her own blackboard?!! Shouldn’t the kitten be

in a way that’s accessible to the children themselves and, importantly, is reassuring in everything it says. No pupil slavery cleaning boards here! (They’re electronic, anyway.) Adults have their own pages towards the back of the book, in which we’ve printed all the legalese. Those bits, however, are the boring parts: the colour and the fun are with the children – which is exactly how it ought to be.

We plan to give our picture book (OK, OK, if you insist . . . our prospectus) to everyone who comes to look around, or who meets a member of our staff during a liaison visit to a nursery. But we really believe we’ve created something useful, a very small – but nonetheless significant – contribution to children’s books. That’s why it will soon be available as an e-book on our website (lovingly narrated by one of the school’s Deputy Heads,) and a free app for smartphones too! We’ve put the values which we hold towards childhood into the pages of a brochure. P.17

by the way, here’s a bent bit of cardboard containing a few pieces of legal jargon to ensure we’re comply with legislation and please the inspectorate.”

But it’s just so embarrassing! Quite often the parents who look round have been to other schools earlier in the day, so are clutching A4 glossy folders bursting with DVDs or other promotional goodies (fluffy bug, anyone? Would look lovely on a pencil case . . . No? How about one of our branded rulers in the school colours, then?) so as I hand our very economical and practical, yet astonishingly uninspiring, leaflet over to prospective parents, I usually cover it with a recent newsletter: at least that’s in colour and celebrates all the things we do . . . But my days with the photocopier are over. That long-arm stapler has jammed once too often. Surely, I tell myself, parents will think a school containing over three hundred children should do better than this?

outside enjoying playtime?!! And that’s why, at our school, we have changed the basic premise of our prospectus. It’s not aimed at adults, it’s for children, it’s fundamentally comforting . . . and we love it.

Kate and Joe go to Hurlingham is a 28 page picture book about starting school. In one sense, it’s clearly about starting our school, because the building looks like our building, the people look like our people and they have our names. However, very importantly, it will be useful to all families who have children moving from nurseries into “big” school, or who are relocating and have children moving from one institution to another. In our story, we follow Kate (in Reception) and Joe (in Year Five) as they enjoy their school day with us. We see them in classrooms, in the playground, on the sports field, in the lunchroom and at assembly. We learn what clubs they do and how much homework they have . . . and we do it all

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