A school recently reported to the Advertising Standards Authority has been told to change its website
It may come as a bit of a surprise to you to find that something said on the school’s own website about itself is could be of interest to the Advertising Standards Authority. But it can.
In fact, the ASA can take an interest in anything that can be considered a form of promotion – if someone refers the matter to them for investigation.
Now of course the ASA spends most of its time worrying about the latest offer from rival TV service suppliers, downmarket newspapers and time share companies. But there’s nothing in the rule book to say that a complaint can’t be made about a school website.
And one just has. I don’t know if it is the first ever such complaint, or who made it, but I can say that a significant number of complaints about advertising that reach the ASA are made by rival organisations. This complaint might have come from parents or it might have come from another school – one doesn’t know – but the fact is that once the complaint has been made it ought to be answered.
In this case, a school advertised itself as offering “World Class” education, and the challenge was that the school should justify such a claim. The school in response to the ASA pointed out that the phrase was not an official one used by Ofsted, and no one would be confused.
In response the ASA said that,
“The ASA considered parents of school-age children would be aware of the rating system Ofsted used and would be likely to realise that “World Class” was not a rating awarded by them.
“Nevertheless, we still considered “World Class,” used alongside references to high academic qualifications and a teaching team with a proven record in high performance in the context of an ad for a school, suggested an objective rating rather than an aspirational term, particularly when presented with capital letters and in speech marks or inverted commas.”
So the school got its knuckles rapped.
The full set of rulings for this week, including the one about the school are shown here. If you want to know what the ASA does and how it works, the details are at http://www.asa.org.uk/About-ASA.aspx
In essence not much happens if you are found to be in breach of the regulations of the ASA – there are no fines or anything. They just say, “don’t do it again”. At most it is a bit embarrassing. But it is, as a general rule, worth asking oneself, “Can I really prove the claim that I am making?”
That is where the difficulty with a phrase like “world class” comes. It is hard to prove unless you have an award or can show that there is widespread agreement that the phrase is applicable here.