Sudoku lures would-be maths teachers

Despite high-profile recruitment campaigns, maths teachers are in still in short supply, and 2,350 government-funded training places were unfilled at the start of the year.

Schools: children were invited to each town centre to appear in the photoshoots
Schools: children were invited to each town centre to appear in the photoshoots
Campaign Sudoku Roadshow Challenge
Client Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA)
PR team Band & Brown Communications
Timescale January-March
Budget Part of contract with TDA

When TDA research found that one in ten new mathematics teachers entered the profession from a different career – and that 38 per cent gave up a management role – the organisation wanted to reach out to potential career-switchers.

Retained agency Band & Brown Communications had previously used a giant equation sign in January to
promote TDA’s ‘Train to Teach’ recruitment events in Leeds and London. In March it devised a three-metre tall, 3D sudoku cube for a tour of five cities, all of which had teacher-training places available in their schools.

To harness the ongoing popularity of the maths puzzle, sudoku, and talk to a target audience of graduates about teacher training.

Strategy and Plan
Carol Vorderman, the Countdown mathematician and a household-name favourite for previous sudoku-related PR campaigns, was used as the face of the campaign. She launched the roadshow at a photocall outside London’s Liverpool Street station, in the heart of the banking district.

The roadshow, which ran from 27-31 March, and which also went to Norwich, Leicester, Liverpool and Newcastle , was accompanied by photocalls in each town. Vorderman was not involved in the regional events, but local schoolchildren were invited to each town-centre location to be photographed solving the puzzles, while models handed out leaflets.

The campaign was also intended to show the scope for creativity offered by maths teaching. Commuters were challenged to solve the sudoku puzzle for the chance to win £500, with another £500 going to the maths department of a local school.

Competition entrants were given information about becoming a maths teacher. A leaflet directed them to
the TDA’s website and its teaching information line.

Measurement and Evaluation
ITV London, ITV Anglia and BBC East Midlands covered the events. The Times ran a story on the London visit on its front page, and in its T2 section.

Stories were particularly strong in regional newspapers, including City AM, Eastern Daily Press, Leicester Mercury, Liverpool Echo, Newcastle Evening Chronicle and Birmingham Mail. Local radio coverage was achieved in all of the cities visited. On the internet, the story featured on The Times Online, Guardian Unlimited and BBC Online.

A total of 12,500 leaflets including information about teaching were handed out, and 590 people entered the competition. Of the 590, a fifth asked to be sent more information.

It is not known how many of these will apply for teacher training places, but the names have been added to TDA’s register.

David Owen, senior reporter at the Leicester Mercury, says: ‘I thought the campaign was quite innovative; it certainly caught people’s attention. There was quite a crowd – parents, schoolchildren, office workers and even quiz boffins sat on benches scribbling away. In terms of publicity, this campaign was ideal.’

Peter Mountstevens, account director at Taylor Herring, launched Sky One’s Sudoku Live in 2005

While sudoku may not be the talking point it was 12 months ago, the creation of a puzzle-based roadshow fronted by Carol Vorderman was a solid, if rather safe, idea. The events had a good visual appeal, were clearly linked to mathematics and attracted a great response from the public. 

The media coverage was good, especially the spread of regional interest, which was a main campaign objective. The front-page story in The Times was also a fantastic result. But the team could have built on this national coverage had it targeted the career and family sections of the dailies, as well as the general news pages.

Some statistics on the lack of maths teachers, starting salaries and class sizes – and interesting case studies of people who had left high-flying management jobs to teach maths – would have ensured that key messages were relayed clearly. Real-life stories on the work/life balance benefits of teaching could have offered a further topical angle, which could have worked well for the family supplements in weekend papers.  

The launch event featuring Vorderman worked fairly well, even though there could have been more of a broadcast story encompassing daytime TV shows and further national radio.

But the sudoku roadshow attracted a high number of competition entrants, many of whom wanted to know more about mathematics as a career. 

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