The oldest trick in the book.
The names and locations mentioned in the text below have been changed for the safety of the people involved, and their families.
I was halfway through year 10. My parents had decided that our four-year escape to the country had come to end. I arrive at the infamous High School in the City, the one of four options that my parents had provided to me. The one high school out of the choices that had a state-of-the-art basketball stadium and as advertised, a national basketball program lead by an ex NBL star!
The other schools never had a chance.
I am having dinner at my grandparent’s house with my extended family a week after moving back to Adelaide. They ask me which school I am attending, I brag about the stadium, the program and the equipment. My extended family who have lived in Adelaide their whole life, questioned me on the name of the school:
“Never heard of it”
“Is it new?”
“Wait, where is it again?”
Soon the whole dinner table is focussed on me. We were half-way through the night, and I hadn’t had one chance to take a bite of the delicious roast before my eyes. There was so much confusion as to what or where this school was.
Until it clicked.
“Hang on is that on Muster Road”. My uncle asked.
“Umm yeah, it’s just around the corner from here”. I say in disbelief, that someone finally worked it out.
My uncle increases his voice slightly above the dull roar of the rest of the family:
“Hang on, I went to that school ten-fifteen years ago, well your aunty and I both did, that’s how we met, except it wasn’t called that….they must have re-named it….they certainly weren’t known for basketball, and to be honest, it was a bit feral…there were a lot of fights”
At the time I didn’t think much of this, nor did anyone else. Okay sure, my school used to be called something else, it used to have a poor reputation around South Australia, it USED to be feral. That’s not a reflection on the school today, I mean they have an elite basketball program, state of the art equipment and a different uniform.
How wrong I was.
As it turned out, the school had gone through a vicious re-brand. Enrolments had fallen significantly since my uncle’s time, putting half of the buildings into remission. In my first year someone almost set the entire school on fire setting off fireworks in the school, there was 5 (memorable) fights, several butcher knifes brought to school, (with the intent of hurting people), a “watched by the police” gang or “crew” as they were known, that terrorized the school yard … and all of the suburb of which the members lived (my teachers were terrified of them). I then later found out the school had recently gotten a large grant from the government, of which they irresponsibly spent on the basketball stadium, (we all had a feeling the coach was getting paid too much).
In the end I scraped through year twelve with limited personal and emotional damage (basically due to being involved in the basketball program, a luxury status that not all the students had), graduating with a good friend and roughly 20 other people who passed their basic courses…
Up until recently I thought:
“Hey, what they did wasn’t too bad, all schools use some kind of marketing to get people in, ours was just a massive basketball stadium that told anyone without sporting ability to go back to the school yard and get bullied”.
I later ended up getting into University (through no help from the school), where I was sitting in a marketing class learning about the concept of a “re-brand”. I thought about my school,
“That was pretty smart, you can extinguish a bad reputation with smoke and mirrors, even if the quality won’t change, its history will.”
I later completed further research into this. Why do schools do this?
The main reason is to increase enrolment numbers, and the strategy to do this is to be more like private schools.
What tactics do they use?
- Schools will change their uniform, adding a blazer and a tie
- They will drop the word “secondary” and add the word “college” into their name
- They will change their “school values”
- They will completely change their branding (colours, logo, names, identity)
I was left wondering, are these sneaky tactics worth it?
Further research into the overall process provided more insight:
It also turns out that changing the entire branding, name and values of a school is no small feat. All the staff – (non- teaching and teaching) must get on board with the new mission. If you are a public school, you must make several requests of and then follow strict guidelines written by the Education department. Then, you must communicate to all the existing community members (parents, students, volunteers) that even know the buildings, teachers, students and curriculum are the same, their school is no longer the same school it once was.
The whole re-branding process can take over a year to be completed. I thought to myself:
“Imagine if a school tried to do this more then once in a short period, the community would be distraught”.
In 2019, eight years after my year twelve graduation I am sitting in a coffee shop reading the paper and smack bang, there it is front and centre on the third page! It is my school, except it wasn’t quite the same, they had a new name, a new uniform, a new website…. but the same dirty old tricks.