Working with the media 1: an overview

Working with the media: handling bad press and commenting on wider education policy

Your role as the head teacher or school leader, together with the chair of governors, is to represent your school, and this will require occasional dealings with the media.

This guidance aims to help and advise you if the media contact you in the following circumstances:

  • Managing bad news because of an incident, tragedy or other circumstance directly involving staff members or pupils
  • Managing interest in wider educational issues, which have or may have a bearing on your school.


General principles

In a time of crisis, media attention can be unwelcome, but handling the situation in the right way can help to promote mutual trust and cooperation for the future. At the same time, you should not assume that a friendly approach will automatically lead to sympathetic coverage.


Managing ‘bad news’

Most of the school’s contact with the media will be at a local level, and it is worth establishing a positive working relationship early on. If your local newspaper has an education correspondent, it is worth getting to know them as well as the news editor.

The national media tend to get involved in more extreme situations. Often, press support through your local authority/academy trust will deal with such enquiries, in close liaison with you and your governing body. If something happens or you are not sure how to handle it, you should contact the press office immediately and let them know so that they can support you in dealing with the media. In church schools, the diocesan officer may fulfil a similar supporting function.

You must bear in mind that journalists can be very persistent, and ignoring calls or enquiries from them will not normally make them go away. Often there is a wider debate to be had, and the situation which your school finds itself in may well be a matter of public interest.


Try to follow a few general rules:

  • Establish exactly who you are speaking to and from which media organisation. If the reporter turns up at the school, ask to see identification and contact their office if you are in any doubt
  • Do not delegate an interview to a member of staff who has no previous experience of dealing with the media or does not have knowledge of the situation that has aroused media interest
  • Remember that journalists may also speak to members of the community, parents and even pupils beyond the school’s grounds to supplement any official line from the school
  • There may be occasions when the head teacher or chair of governors is unavailable, so it is worth establishing a policy of dealing with media enquiries in their absence, involving other members of the senior leadership team.


The interview

If a journalist asks you to give an interview or comment on a situation that has arisen at your school, make sure you are well-equipped with the facts to answer questions before meeting the journalist or putting yourself in front of a camera. It will help to convey that you are on top of the problem.

  • Treat journalists with courtesy; however, be aware they may have their own agenda
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, but offer to find out more and let the relevant person know later
  • Don’t feel pressured into answering questions that relate to matters other than the ones you are dealing with or which fall outside of your area of knowledge
  • Do not answer a question with “no comment”. This merely arouses suspicion, and it may create the impression that there is something to hide or that the story is true. Respond by stating you would prefer not to go into details at this sensitive time
  • Try to detract from bad news by emphasising the positive
  • Do not criticise others. Avoid using words that attach blame or liability to another person
  • Resist responding to a news story so as not to extend the natural life of any bad news
  • If you need to contain the story, do not allow staff or pupils to be interviewed and do not facilitate interviews with parents.


Useful phrases that you can include in interviews or statements to the media

  • “The school offers its sympathy to the families of those involved”
  • “A full investigation will be carried out”
  • “There will be an immediate review of the school’s policy following this incident”
  • “The matter has been referred to the governing body [or other relevant body], which will follow procedures and report back in due course”
  • “The details of the incident remain confidential to allow an investigation to take place”
  • “Appropriate action will be taken once all the evidence has been considered”.


Managing interest in your school in the context of wider educational policies

Situations may occur that are of wider educational interest, which may mean a journalist approaches you to comment. For example, a journalist may ask you to comment on an issue of national policy and how this affects your school.

Since 2010, some schools have been encouraged to become academies, and often, schools transitioning to academies will draw some media attention as many may view the change as significant to the local community. The attention will often be unwelcome, but you must handle it correctly so not to damage the reputation of the school. Journalists may contact you to comment on the likely effect of a free school opening in your locality or a school closure because of falling rolls or poor performance.

If you do not want to comment, we recommend you politely decline.


Typical scenarios that attract interest from the media

  • Parental campaigns
  • Child protection issues
  • Serious accidents and fatalities
  • Alleged staff misconduct
  • Strikes and industrial action
  • Ofsted inspections
  • Academy applications.

In all cases, it is worth considering appropriate responses with your governing body, in anticipation of the need arising. This may include drafting letters to send out to parents or a standard statement.


Sample statement

Following an Ofsted notice to improve/special measures judgement

Following a two-day visit by Ofsted inspectors, the governing body of [school name] can confirm that it has now received the inspection report.

The inspectors found many features of the school that were good, such as X and they praised Y. However, because Z was deemed to be not as good, their overall judgement was that the school should be placed in the category of [insert category] so that the school can receive additional support.

The entire school community is determined to drive the school forward and respond positively to this report. We see this as an opportunity to improve the school further to provide the best education for our pupils.


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