I’ve always been slightly troubled by time many organisations spend creating vision and mission statements. For a new organisation, or one doing something quite distinctive, unique, or entirely values-based, then it kind of makes sense. But I can’t see how the struggle to describe that in a short pithy form is worth the effort. Any potential meaning tends to get word-smithed to death in the process, resulting in something either so understated or overstated, so vanilla or hundreds-and-thousands, the object (to articulate the purpose of the company, what it does and for whom) is defeated.
Take Avery Dennison’s old mission: “To help make every brand more inspiring, and the world more intelligent”. That, from the company that makes those sticky labels that never come out right when you print them.
This is a real problem for schools which, for all intents and purposes, do the same thing as all the other schools out there, perhaps a bit better, perhaps a bit worse; perhaps with a bit more of a nod towards progressive methods, perhaps not. They are also all bounded by the same limitations, regardless of any claims to “treat all children as individuals”, for example. Don’t they all “strive for success”? It would be an odd school that didn’t.
All of which is why I was floored by a sketch on the marvellous John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme last year, which I’ve failed to find a recording of, but which is available in script form here. Enjoy:
The School Slogan Sketch (JFSP, S05E01)
Margaret: Right, so the thing is the school needs a slogan.
John: Slogan? Why?
Margaret: I don’t know. It’s just a thing schools have now. It’s to go on the sign outside…you know the sort of thing. “Springbourne School: A Tradition of Excellence”, or “Where Learning is an Adventure”, or “Committed to Excellence in Education”.
Carrie: Well, any of those sound fine.
Margaret: No, they’ve all been used. We need our own.
Simon: Okay. Er, “A School of Excellence”.
Carrie: “Excellence for Everyone”!
Lawry: “Where Excellent Excellence comes to Excel”.
Margaret: Okay…it doesn’t have to be about excellence.
John: Well, it might as well be though. “Springbourne: Where the Students Are All Equally Excellent, Ironically Making Them All Look Normal”.
Simon: “While Only Compared to Each Other. Compared to Students from Other Schools, They’re All Like Gods!”
Margaret: Hmm. I admire everyone’s enthusiasm, but of course, the problem is we’re sort of pretty much at the bottom of the league table.
John: Yeah, okay, yeah. Okay…“Springbourne School: Where Excellence Remains An Aspiration”.
Simon: Okay. So look, there is one positive thing about our stats. The students we get were much worse than the local average when they get there, but only slightly worse than average by the time they leave so we actually improve them a lot.
Margaret: Right, so if the slogan could somehow express that?
John: “Springbourne School: Yeah, We Know, But You Should Have Seen Them When They Got Here.”
Carrie: “Springbourne: Making the Best Silk Purses We Can”.
Simon: “Springbourne: To Be Honest, It’s the Kids’ Faults”.
Margaret: No, no, no. All right, how about just one that doesn’t make any claims? Like “Springbourne: A Great Place to Learn”?
Lawry: Yeah, but again that word ‘great’.
Carrie: “Springbourne: Because They Have To Go Somewhere”.
Simon: “Springbourne: We’ll Keep Them Here All Day”.
John: “Springbourne: Like Prison for Kids”.
Margaret: All right! How about we just leave the ‘great’ out? “Springbourne: A Place to Learn”?
Carrie: Ooh, even that. I mean, obviously, *ideally* they’d learn but…
John: Well, that might do. “Springbourne: Ideally They’d Learn”.
Lawry: Or you could turn it round. “Springbourne: A Place to Teach”.
Simon: Well, yeah, obviously it’s a place to teach. That’s just the definition of school. You might just as well say, “Springbourne School: A School”.
Margaret: Cracked it!