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Heads question methods of glossy Westminster mag that charges £3,500 for exposure



A glossy magazine that charges schools thousands of pounds to be featured in its pages has been accused of misleading headteachers over its links to parliament.

School leaders across England received letters last month telling them they had been selected to appear in The Parliamentary Review and attend a gala event in Westminster with politicians and celebrities.

The letters from “The Rt Hon David Curry”, a former Conservative MP and minister, boast of recent contributions from Theresa May and Damian Hinds, the education secretary, and encourage schools to submit articles demonstrating their “best practice”.

I don’t think this publication offers value for money to schools at a time of falling school budgets and I would not feel comfortable contributing to it again.

However, headteachers who responded to the invitations were later asked to stump up thousands of pounds to be featured in the publication, which is distributed free each year to every school in the country.

The magazine – which has editions for several industries – purports to be “hugely popular” with schools. But some headteachers told Schools Week they were led to believe it was published by parliament itself.

The magazine refuted “any suggestion” that it misled schools.

“It looks like a parliamentary publication,” Sam Nixon, head at Ashleigh Primary School in Wymondham, Suffolk, said. “You open the first page and it’s got Theresa May doing the foreword and Damian Hinds on the second page. That makes it look even more so.

“We had a letter that looks quite similar from Lord Agnew, again with his title at the top, congratulating the school on its outstanding grade. So having seen this one when it came, I thought ‘oh excellent, great news’.”

The letter said that Curry would like the school to be one of the representatives for next year’s edition and to write 1,000 words with the guidance of its editorial team.

The letter included an invitation from Lord Blunkett, the review’s chair, to an annual gala. Previous attendees were listed as George Osborne, the former chancellor, Frank Lampard, the footballer, and Jonny Wilkinson, the rugby player.

The letter urged the school to phone so the “whole process” could be explained. It made no mention of a fee.

Assuming it was a free service provided by a public sector organisation, Nixon responded enthusiastically, only to be told in a later phone conversation and email that he would have to pay £1,200 for his school to be included. He declined.

“Speaking to a couple of other heads, everyone felt that they had been highlighted for recognition for the work they’d done,” Nixon said.

He also questioned the use of Hinds’s name to promote a publication that charged schools “at a time when you’re being told you have to be careful with how you spend your budget”. He said the education secretary’s contribution appeared to “validate” the magazine.

Nick King, the head of Scarning Voluntary Controlled Primary School in Norfolk, was also contacted by Curry in October. He said he felt “flattered” to have been approached, but was subsequently told he would have to pay £3,500 to take part.

“We were more than happy to contribute 1,500 words or whatever it was they wanted about how life is at our school,” he told Schools Week, adding that his school was “very close” to signing up.

There seemed to be a general view that it wasn’t necessarily the most upfront process

“My deputy did a little bit of digging and there seemed to be a general view that it wasn’t necessarily the most upfront process.”

Both headteachers said they understood why some schools signed up. King said one leader he knew had found the publication a useful way to promote her school, but he still questioned its value for money.

“She had had a bit of a bad time in terms of publicity locally and she said they found it quite a good way to promote the school in a positive way. I get that, but ultimately the £3,500 was a bit of a warning sign, and we decided not to do it.

“You get it on that distinguished-looking paper, and you see ‘parliament’ in there and a reference to Theresa May, and it’s all very grand and quite flattering.

“On investigation, it was unclear why we were being asked to pay £3,500.”

Other recent contributors to the magazine include Michael Gove, the former education secretary, Nick Gibb, the current schools minister, and Lucy Powell, the former shadow secretary.

Lucy Powell MP says she would feel “uncomfortable” writing for the publication again

Powell, who now sits on the parliamentary education committee, said she did not know about the charges and would not write for the publication again.

“I was asked to write a piece…but I had no idea until much later that schools were paying so much money to be included,” she said.

“From what I know of it, I don’t think this publication offers value for money to schools at a time of falling school budgets and I would not feel comfortable contributing to it again.”

But Craig Wilmann, the director of The Parliamentary Review, said it was made clear to schools “in the very first call” and on the magazine’s website that it was published by an “independent organisation”.

The publication’s name “reflects the fact that each document discusses parliamentary policy pertaining to the relevant policy sector.

“It does not imply that we are directly connected to parliament ourselves and it would be remiss of us not to mention the fact that the prime minister and the education secretary have contributed forewords. Ministers regularly contribute to non-governmental publications.

“We absolutely refute any suggestion that we in any way mislead schools or organisations who partake in the review.”

A DfE spokesperson said a contribution by any government minister was “not an endorsement and nor should it be seen as such.

“Any organisation or publication that approaches a school to sell a product or service should be transparent about what they are doing.”

 

What is The Parliamentary Review?

A printed and online publication with a number of editions across a range of sectors – including primary and secondary education. It is distributed free to all schools once a year.

The magazine is published by Westminster Publications, a private company that has just one director, Daniel Yossman and, according to The Times, has an annual turnover of £2 million.

The publication is chaired by Lord Pickles, the former communities secretary, and David Blunkett, the former education secretary, both of whom are paid for their services. It is edited by David Curry, a former standards committee chair who in 2010 was ordered to repay £28,000 of parliamentary expenses that he spent on a house in his constituency that he rarely used.

The review also organises an annual gala, which in the past has been attended by Tony Blair and Nick Clegg.



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10 Comments

  1. James Noble-Rogers

    People are right to be wary of this publication. At first it feels like something of an honor to be asked to contribute. Only later do they make it clear how much it will cost. I was nearly, but not quite, taken in. The public figures who put their names to it should be ashamed.

  2. Martyn Sibley

    I too was nearly taken in by this publication. I recommend great caution. I do not remember being advised that it was an ‘independent organisation’ in the initial telephone call either. The well spoken young man inferred that I would be mad not to take up this incredible ‘opportunity’ to raise our profile and that the school had been especially ‘selected’. David Curry’s name was used liberally. None of it added up….. no better than a scam, in my opinion.

  3. Ian Gaskell

    Beware. Just come across this magazine recently as a small local adult social care provider has appeared in it, in a “care” tagged issue. I used to be a director of a magazine publishing company and can assure you that this is just a vehicle to sell advertorial aka vanity advertising – ie ads that read as editorial. That’s how the publisher makes money. The general editorial wrapped around theses ads will no doubt be the same in each issue of that year so costs very little, be it “care”, “health”, “education” etc. The circulation quoted of 500,000 annually would need to be divided by however many issues they produce and as it is unaudited is likely to be well over-egged. The sales methods sound very questionable. All the politicians involved either fronting it up or writing forewords etc that makes it all sound more credible should be ashamed.

  4. Martyn Durran

    I have just had the honor of getting a letter from Rt Hon The Lord Pickles to take part in the 2019/20 review. I googled “the parliamentary review” and saw the MIRROR article about a previous gala with Lord Blunkett and celebrities.
    You have to be so careful, the article is a paid advertisement and as pointed out on the forum this is just a vanity marketing tool with no real value to either the companies submitting articles or the greater business community. We all should be surprised politicians are paid to put their names to this kind of scam, but after all the expenses scandals and reports of parliamentary abuse, people would be stupid not to see through this blatant use of their right honorable and titled status. SHAMEFUL in the extreme

  5. I’ve had one of these letters this week. Looks pretty impressive on first glance but many articles like this one, telling a very different story. How dare these people use their titles like this.

    • I too was very flattered to receive a letter this week. However on further investigation I am quite angry that this appears to be a scam of sorts. I am shocked that it is dressed up to be so important, yet ruens out they just want my money!
      And here was me thinking it would be great for our business! Not if it costs me £3500 plus all the epxense of attending the event in London!

  6. Sally Power

    I received a personalised invitation’ a couple of weeks ago to take part in the Parliamentary Review and was initially taken in by this very clever approach, partly because the letter itself resembled a genuine letter from my local MP on first sight. The letter contained no mention of any cost, this came later when I contacted them and after a very slick sales pitch, littered with the names of high profile politicians, it was then suggested that I pay £950 + vat to take part, I didn’t even have to write the article if I was too illiterate!! I have no idea why they picked on my small business, it was quite obvious they know absolutely nothing about it or me…. since they are so keen to promote ‘best practise’ and have selected my business to represent this how are they vetting us?
    When I emailed Rt Hon David Curry to decline his ‘invite’ he went to great pains to point out that ‘ they would never contact someone they didn’t know and ask them for money’… isn’t this exactly what they are doing? They also deny any connection to Parliament but both subliminally and by inference, with repeated name dropping o politicians, the name of the review, the name of the company , the lure of a gala dinner at The Houses of Parliament… aren’t they implying just that?
    I think this is outrageous, it is a misuse of Parliament , it is disingenuous and misleading, they supposedly promote ‘best practise ‘ but they are practising ‘sharp practise’. I wonder if politicians would be so keen to support this publication if they realised how questionable their methods were.
    The Parliamentary Review is a ‘ for profit’ business, selling advertising space in their publication, they are a limited company with a large turnover… beware!
    I will be putting all my correspondence with them before my MP because in over thirty years in business I have never been subjected to such a scam