August 2018


  • And breathe...
    Geoff Barton reflects on what has been another extremely busy year for school and college leaders, and says the summer will hopefully, for many, be a time to unwind with family and friends. More
  • Stress less
    As we continuously strive to improve and support the wellbeing of our pupils, we mustn't forget to ensure the health and welfare of our staff too, says Trust Director Julie Yarwood. More
  • Social media: Enjoy, engage or avoid?
    Whether you're developing a social media strategy for your school or college, reviewing existing policies, or managing your own online presence, Online Editor Sally Jack provides advice to help you navigate the social media maelstrom. More
  • Make the news
    By telling their story and knowing how to respond to bad news, schools and colleges can build a successful relationship with the media which can be a huge benefit to them, says ASCL's Head of Public Relations Richard Bettsworth. More
  • Free for all?
    New research from the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) and the Sutton Trust has found that pupils at secondary free schools perform slightly better than pupils at other types of schools, but is that the only thing we should judge them on? Karen Wespieser looks at the data. More
  • Pioneer programme
    The NPQEL programme offers multi-academy trust leaders a roadmap for leadership in this challenging new territory. Julie Nightingale reports. More
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By telling their story and knowing how to respond to bad news, schools and colleges can build a successful relationship with the media which can be a huge benefit to them, says ASCL’s Head of Public Relations Richard Bettsworth.

Make the news

Too often, the first experience that schools and colleges have of dealing with the media is a negative one. They may find themselves in a list of those that have fallen foul of the shifting sands of floor standards, the focus of a report on a negative Ofsted inspection or the subject of irate comments by a parent.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. Bad news inevitably attracts the interest of the media. It is a fact of life. But there are two things you can do to redress the balance.

The first is to tell your success stories. Schools and colleges are rich in positive stories: the triumphs and achievements of their students, community projects, productions and sporting successes. Your local media will be interested in many of these stories. Schools and colleges are newsworthy. They exist at the heart of communities and stories about them are well read.

The second is to know how to respond when and if bad news happens. There are two sides to every story, and a clear, timely response can provide a more complete picture that gives important context and aids public understanding. The media will always seek a response, but the fast-paced nature of news means that time is of the essence. Responses need to be thoughtful, but they also need to be reasonably swift, otherwise the story may be published with a line at the end simply recording that you were contacted for comment.

Telling success stories

A simple and effective way of telling your story is via a press release. You need to answer five key questions in the information you provide – who, what, where, why and when. Be clear, concise and don’t use jargon or acronyms (unless they are universally known – GCSE, for example). Include some lively quotes that add colour to your story, rather than simply repeating factual information. They are your chance to tell the public what a particular achievement means to your students, staff and parents. In addition, local newspapers are always looking for photos to illustrate their stories, so it may be a good idea to take a picture and send it with your press release. Finally, include a contact name and telephone number.

You may want to invite the media to a particular event, but be mindful that their resources are limited and it will need to be a very newsworthy occasion, such as exam results. Ensure you have the necessary permissions for the media to interview students, and likewise with any names and photographs that you use in a press release.

Contact local radio stations as well as local newspapers, and for the most newsworthy occasions you may also want to contact your regional television stations.

Make sure you use your social media platforms to tell your governors, parents, staff and students about success stories that have been published.

Responding to bad news

The best way to handle bad news is to be prepared. If you have received a negative Ofsted judgement, for example, prepare a statement that you can issue to the media if you are contacted for a comment when the report is published. This will give you time to think carefully about the wording of your comment and to seek any necessary advice and/or approval. Bad news generally doesn’t arrive from a clear blue sky, and social media ‘storms’ are difficult to predict. But, that aside, most pitfalls can be foreseen, and it may be worth making public relations part of your risk-assessment process.

Be aware that information in newsletters and consultations that you send to parents may end up in the media, particularly if you are communicating something potentially controversial – a stricter uniform policy, for example. Once again, it is a good idea to have a response ready that you can use if you are contacted for a comment.

In written communications, both with the media and parents, think about content and tone. Explain clearly and concisely, avoiding complicated and technical language. Be calm, professional and measured. If something has gone wrong say what you are going to do to put things right. Be reassuring.

Social media storms

As already noted, social media storms are hard to predict. Nevertheless, there are a number of ways in which you can deal with them – my colleague Sally Jack, ASCL’s Online Editor, offers some useful advice in her article on page 18. One thing to remember, however, is that if such a situation does arise, you should avoid becoming embroiled in protracted dialogue on social media.


You may decide to be interviewed by the media, either on a success story or in response to bad news. This could be with a print journalist, on radio or television. Whatever the format, be clear about what you are going to say. Have in your mind the three key points you want to convey. It helps to write them down, and, with broadcast interviews, it is a good idea to rehearse in front of a mirror or to a friend or family member. It is also beneficial – particularly with a bad news story – to have a friend or family member ask you some challenging questions.

Speak clearly and slowly (although not unnaturally so). For television interviews you will want to appear smart and professional, and think about where you are being filmed and what is in the background of the shot. If you are invited to a studio give yourself plenty of time to get there so that you are relaxed and confident during the interview.

In control

Dealing with the media may seem unnerving. However, by following a few simple steps, it can be a good opportunity to tell your positive stories, and to respond effectively when bad news happens. We have to bear in mind that we cannot control the story that is ultimately published or broadcast. But, to paraphrase England rugby coach Eddie Jones, we can only control what we can control; there’s no point worrying about what we can’t control. However, what we can control is what we say, and the most important considerations are that we are clear, concise and timely.

Dealing with the media may seem unnerving. However, by following a few simple st eps, it can be a good opportunity to tell your positive st ories, and to respond effectively when bad news happens.

Further advice

Download Richard’s information paper, Exam Results 2018: Working with the media, online at

Richard Bettsworth
ASCL Head of Public Relations