Schools warned over Big Classroom ‘possible subscription trap’

Teachers got stung by bills of nearly £500 and legal threats after signing up for a free trial

Teachers got stung by bills of nearly £500 and legal threats after signing up for a free trial

24 Feb 2024, 5:00

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The Big Classroom

Councils are warning over a “possible subscription trap” by The Big Classroom after teachers got stung by bills of nearly £500 and legal threats having signed up for a free trial.

Headteachers have complained of unwittingly entering an annual subscription contract with the firm, which calls itself a social network for schools, costing £480 after applying for a free pilot. 

On its school noticeboard in November, Birmingham council said that the marketing material was “very lengthy”, with information about subscription charges “left to the very end”. 

But bosses of the Blackpool-based firm insist it is “very clear” what schools are registering for, with those signing up informed of the potential payment details on three occasions.

A Birmingham council spokesperson said its trading standards team was nevertheless “making enquiries” about the company.

“When Birmingham City Council was alerted to the issue, our audit team immediately alerted schools, but unfortunately received contact from two schools … who already had signed up to the subscription,” the spokesperson said. 

The council said in November that a company called Machtech Media Limited had been “contacting schools across the West Midlands, encouraging them to sign up to a free trial of their education resource The Big Classroom”. 

Schools ‘fallen for the subscription trap’

Schools in London had “reportedly fallen for the subscription trap and have suffered regular and sustained demands for payment and ultimately threats of court action”, the authority added. 

It also said the firm had “reportedly been misleading schools by suggesting that others within their area have already signed up, which is not necessarily the case”. The Big Classroom denies the allegations. 

Birmingham said it had contacted trading standards in Lancashire, where the company is based, and will “update all schools with any further advice in due course”.

Schools Week has discovered that five councils have issued warnings to their schools about the firm over the past four years.

Telford and Wrekin, posting on its education noticeboard in December, labelled the free trial offer “misleading”, adding that “schools end up being signed up to a paid service, following which demands for payment are issued”. 

The post was titled “‘Big Classroom’ Potential Scam”.

Meanwhile last February, Northumberland County Council’s education website Northumberland Education wrote that “a few schools” had been “caught out” by the offer, “resulting in an invoice for £480”.

The Big Classroom describes itself as “an online community of thousands of schools” who are linked with “contrasting schools to promote tolerance, challenge stereotypes and celebrate our unique identities”.

It has a rating of 1.2 stars out of five on review website Trustpilot. Ninety-three per cent of the 110 users who left a rating awarded it a score of one star. 

‘Clear what teachers were signing up for’

The latest review on the site, posted last month, noted the teacher had tried to cancel their trial late while their school was in the process of “closing due to financial unsustainability”. 

“It was not clear we would be charged at the end of the trial, or that we therefore had to cancel it,” the poster alleged.  “The sheer quantity of reviews saying the same speaks for itself.”

In a response to the review, The Big Classroom said it had made it “very clear what you were signing up for” and that the school “must have known” when it registered that it “was scheduled to close”.  

“As you say, you cancelled late. Surely, you must bear the responsibility for this. Why do you expect a small company to bear the cost for your decision?”

Firm claims cost ‘made clear’

Birmingham City Council
Birmingham City Council

Helen Evans, The Big Classroom’s marketing manager, stated that anyone who signs up for the service has to complete a two-page form online which makes “it very clear what they are registering for”. 

Emails are sent out two weeks before the end of the trial, with the subject line “Don’t Forget”, setting out that a subscription will automatically start within 14 days of the message if not cancelled. 

“The cost and auto renewal are made clear in writing on three occasions. It is not hidden in the small print or T&Cs, it is front and centre on the registration page, confirmation email and reminder email,” she continued.

Evans said the firm had taken schools to court “on a handful of occasions” due to comments made online, but won every case, adding: “I can assure you we are not scamming schools.”

The Big Classroom has not been contacted by any of the councils that issued warnings. The company has worked with “thousands of schools over the past nine years”, some who have been subscribers for seven years, she added.

“Unfortunately, a small percentage get extremely angry with us and make what we believe to be spurious claims about us because they are not prepared to take responsibility for their actions.”

After we went to press, a Lancashire council spokesperson said the authority’s Trading Standards team had been made “aware of a number of complaints about The Big Classroom” in November. 

Officers “examined the contracts and found that the necessary information regarding the subscriptions is included in the small print”. The council “has not received any complaints or information on the matter from our schools locally”.

ADDITION: A statement sent by Lancashire council, sent after the article had been published, has been added into the piece

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