Sunday, 13 November 2011

What's in a Name, the Death of History

What's in a name?

Well, according to Newcastle Football Club's managing director, Derek Llambias, speaking to the Guardian, earlier this week, as he prepared to knock St James out of St James Park:

significant benefits. . . Newcastle hope to strike a combined deal for shirt and stadium sponsorship worth about £10m a year. . . . Stadium rebranding offers a lucrative way for clubs to secure significant additional income. . . . in order to make the proposition as commercially attractive as possible, a potential sponsor must be given the opportunity to fully rebrand the stadium.

Aside from the death of History, and I would say also Geography, this rebranding of UK football clubs with the names of international companies names is not just heart-breaking; it is sinister.

What happened to good old-fashioned altruistic patrons? Did Madame von Meek ask Tchaikovsky to put her name to some of his tunes [her money; his talent]; did Turgenev ask Dostoevsky to put his [Ivan's] name to a couple of Fyordor's books after the first got the second out of a few gambling debts?

Well, obviously I am heading via the Arts towards education and schools. And to Leeds, in particular. I have already talked about the pointless rebranding of Foxwood School Leeds; it lasted four years as East Leeds High School before the Leeds Education Authority conceded that a lot of money had been spent on the wrong things; it was no bigger than it had been.

The uniform, so beloved of all the families who did not send their children there ended in one famous Friday morning when all the children not in uniform were personally sent home by the headteacher. Where, out of poverty, parents did not magic up the required outfits.

Friday 1 was 8C's one Music lesson a week. The music department, over which I then presided, looked out over the school entrance. I watched in dismay as my ensemble lesson unravelled.

Now I am not arguing here about uniform. I am with our ex-deputy, and ex-head of Rodillion, John Heald who once declared that he wasn't particularly against uniform, and, if any children wanted to wear it, he wouldn't stop them.

I am talking about the callous, insenstive and ultimately pointless renaming of schools. When Foxwood/East Leeds merged with Cross Green [on the Cross Green site], and they sought a new name, I argued, in vain, that, there was no need for both of us to lose out on our identity. There was apparently some sort of by-law. Names lost to history forever: Foxwood and Cross Green.

Miles Hill and Potternewton primary schools, although at either end of a very steep Sugarwell hill, were merged. Potternewton's building remained, but had to have a new name [Millfield]. But most shameful is the academies: Intake School, so famous for being Leeds own Fame Academy [but not in that sense!] turned into Leeds West; but not before West Leeds relinqushed the name, and became Swallow Hill; Parklands High School now Leeds East.

Perhaps the biggest crime of them all is that Primrose School is now named after its sponsor, and equally shameful that sponsor is the Co-operative Society. A person's name is their identity. And the school we went to, part of our identity. This is education, and not business. Foxwood High School was a Special School in all but name; with the some of the best teachers in Leeds coping with, protecting and teaching some of the most deprived and vulnerable children in the country. We included some "mainstream" children, and they did well; a bit of a treat for us all to flex our academic muscles on.

Recently I met an ex-pupil of Earl Cowper School; still angry about it becoming Hillcrest [and that's decades later]; ex-Foxwoodians [how often do I hear "it's still Foxwood to me"]. But the main point that I am making is that changing a school's name makes absolutely no difference to it. If you want to improve a school's image, this does nothing; it doesn't even help. And you risk alienating those families who have stood loyally by for years.

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