Radio advertising for the Sunday Independent, in relation to a guide being published in the following Sunday’s paper referred to the following:
"It influences them, it moulds who they are and what they believe. And when your children are at their most impressionable, they spend more time there than with you. Your choice will change their lives. So, which are Ireland’s best schools? The definitive school league tables guide. Only in the Sunday Independent the complete read."
The complainant raised three issues with the advertisement.
The complainant stated that the advertisement included the phrase “which are the best schools?”
He stated that the league tables did not show ‘the best schools’. He added that the tables showed the schools with the highest percentage progression rates to third level colleges which was not a definition of ‘best school’. He stated that it was highly biased by the ability of parents to pay for Third Level fees.
In relation to the claim of ‘best schools’, the complainant stated that the publication failed to take account of progression to UK or international Third Level colleges.
The complainant considered that the reference to “best schools” exploited those who may not fully understand how the statistics provided in a school leagues table guide worked.
The advertisers stated that the word ‘best’ was completely subjective and in this case they had used concrete data over a 9 year period to describe schools that had sent pupils to 3rd level education. They stated that ‘best’ in this instance meant highest percentage. They expressed the view that the claim was not that any one school had better teaching methods than any other.
The advertisers advised that the League Tables took account of those who attended colleges in Ireland only. They stated that this was made clear in the publication.
The advertisers said it had never been their intention to exploit or mislead anyone with the wording used in their radio advertising for the school league tables’ guide. They considered they had been clear and transparent in communicating exactly what their supplement on the topic contained. They stated that in no way had they tried to exploit or mislead any listener.
The guide itself contained a foreword which they stated clearly outlined exactly what the school league tables were, their shortcomings and benefits, how the statistics worked and how exactly they used them.
They quoted an excerpt from the Introduction to the School League Tables:
“School League tables are now part of the annual education calendar, despite their shortcomings.
Parents know they are not perfect and that they don’t tell you everything you need to know about an individual school and what educational enrichment it provides for students. They know that other factors have to be taken into account besides exam results and college placements in deciding where to send their children. That’s assuming they have a choice — which many parents don’t. If they do have the luxury of choices, parents also take into account the manner in which the schools nurture the emotional, spiritual, social, artistic and altruistic attributes of students in their care. And they consider the distance.”
“League tables do what it says on the tin — they indicate how well individual second level schools perform in the college entry stakes. Parents know that they should not judge an individual school’s placement rate on the basis of the results from a single year. Circumstances in one year with a particularly good or weak cohort of students may give a distorted picture. That’s why this Sunday Independent supplement goes further than the annual publication of feeder school lists. It allows parents to track transfer rates to higher education over a nine-year period, to see whether the percentages going to college from individual schools are consistent, take a sudden surge or dip. And if they do drop suddenly they want to know why”.
They advertisers said that they compiled the school league tables every year and they were factually correct.
They said that all they were advertising was the fact the tables were published. They were not promoting any one form of education over another.
The Executive sought a copy of the publication from the advertisers and did not receive a copy.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response.
Issue 1 – Complaint Upheld
The Committee considered the claim in relation to ‘best schools’ to be a superlative claim which would therefore require robust substantiation.
They noted that the publication was based on particular long standing representative data and went further than an annual publication of feeder school lists. They noted the publication content “League tables do what is says on the tin – they indicate how well individual Second Level schools perform in the college entry stakes.” They noted additional informative wording “Parents know they are not perfect and that they don’t tell you everything you need to know about an individual school and what educational enrichment it provides for students”.
They considered that it was likely that not all parents would necessarily consider the term ‘best schools’ to be the ones that had the most students going on to Third Level education and that to categorise schools on this basis alone presented insufficient substantiation. The Committee considered therefore that the claim ‘best schools’ was likely to be misleading and in breach of Sections 4.1, 4.4, 4.9, 4.10 and 4.33 of the Code”.
Issue 2 – Complaint Not Upheld
The Committee noted the advertisers’ response that the publication made it clear that the League Tables took account of those who attended colleges in Ireland only. They also noted that the advertising referred to ‘Irish Schools’ and considered that the majority of listeners would comprehend that the Guide was in relation to students who attended school in Ireland and went on to third level education in Irish Colleges. They considered that the majority of consumers would not be misled by this element of the advertising, and that there was no breach of the Code in relation to this aspect of the complaint.
Issue 3 – Complaint Not Upheld
The Committee noted that the complaint in the context of the Code provision that advertisers should not exploit the credulity, inexperience or lack of knowledge of consumers. They noted the advertisers’ explanation that the published guide explained the school league tables, their shortcomings and benefits, how the statistics worked and how exactly they used them. The Committee considered the use of the term ‘best schools’ in conjunction with comprehension of league table statistics. They were of the view in relation to this aspect of the complaint, that the advertising did not contain content which would be in breach of the Code.
The reference to ‘best schools’ should not be used in the same format again unless it can be substantiated.