DVD home learning service accused of misleading marketing

A new firm is marketing DVDs, that are focused on learning, to parents that are signed by a child’s head teacher. The £2,700 DVD home learning service is marketed to parents with a head teacher’s signature written on school headed paper. About 20,000 schools have already passed out slips for the new service called the Student Support Centre that requires parents to pay for the workbook and DVD set up front.

In return for promoting the programmes, schools are paid about £120 simply for sending out the slip sand then collecting them. The letter sent to the parents states that the school does not endorse the service, but that they wanted to inform parents of the option.

Company Chairman for Student Support Centre, Anthony Lee, stated that parents are offered the chance to pay upfront for the learning DVDs, but are also given the option to pay via a Barclays financing offer. Once parents start paying off the loan, and the 14 day trial period is over, they cannot end the financial agreement even if they have financial reasons for doing so.

Prior to a parent signing the paperwork for the DVD learning programme, company reps come to the parents’ home and allow the children to complete an ability test that is offered by the company. At this point, parents can pay for the DVDs and take additional tests online. They can also receive mailed diplomas for their children through another programme called Educational Backup. As another perk of choosing to do the programme they can also gain access to a helpline that employs both current and retired teachers.

Founder of parenting website Netmums, Siobhan Freegard, called the marketing scheme scandalous since it involves the use of school letter paper and signatures from teachers. She explained that people look up to head teachers, and even if the letters did state that the school does not personally endorse it many parents would still get the idea that it was recommended by the schools which is very misleading.

Justine Roberts is the co-founder of Mumsnet, another parenting website, and she says that many people have been criticising the Student Support Centre service online on the forums. She added that users are complaining that the letters are being marketed from schools promoting expensive programmes and have too many tie-ins since a parent cannot change their mind about the programme. Instead, one a purchase is made they are locked into the contract for four years.

The minimal amount that can be paid for the programme is £1,600 and Lee stated that since every child has different needs it is hard to say what amount of educational tutoring this would include. Once purchased the parent is locked into the agreement because of the loan with Barclays. Even if a parent chooses to stop using the DVD service after six months they have to continue paying until the loan is finished.

Lee defends his programme stating that it offers workbooks and DVDs and is still cheaper than hiring a private tutor. He claims that the company has many customers that are satisfied with their purchase and have seen children progress nicely through the DVD lessons. He explained the reason there is no returns is because all of the DVDs are sent at once so attempting to allow returns would be like attempting to take a telly back to Tesco two years later because it is not being used.

He also added that head teachers simply send out letters about the programme because it is easier and more consistent then recommending a child go to an individual tutor. He also said head teachers can change the letter any way they like and that they are not sending out the letters due to financial incentive at all as the small donation that is made by the SSC would not cover many costs.