Free article: Improving teacher recruitment and retention: part 1 Free article: Get ready to win strategic school improvement funding Reputation management for schools Experience shared: Effective mentoring Tackling bullying in schools - part one Aggression at work: Managing yourself and others Managing difficult conversations The art of influence: Creating the best outcome Change management and conflict Managing anxiety at work Interpreting data for 2017 performance Free article: Know your strengths Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectation Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study Free article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress Free article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review Free article: How to create a leadership team that drives school improvement Free article: Prioritising the budget for school improvement Free article: Transforming a failing school Free article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision Free article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing Free article: The latest developments in education - January 2016 Free article: Managing uncertainty Free article: Pupil voice as an evaluation technique Free article: The latest developments in education - September 2016 Free article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection Free article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty Free article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders Free article: The governing body as a critical friend Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectations Free article: The exam post-mortem Free article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility Free article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model Free article: Effective leadership builds effective teams Free article: Baseline assessment and SEND Free article: Deconstructing the link between SEND and poverty Free article: Making performance management count in school improvement Free article: Joining or setting up a multi-academy trust Free article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation Free article: What are the signs of a good school improvement service adviser? Free article: Headteachers’ appraisal Free article: Making CPD work harder Free article: Interpreting the inspection dashboard Free article: The government's Prevent guidance Free article: Improving provision for the most able Free article: Personal development, behaviour and welfare Free article: Is there a mental health crisis in our schools? Free article: Evaluating the effectiveness of assessment Free article: Actively promoting fundamental British values Free article: Raising boys’ achievement Free article: National standards of excellence for headteachers Free article: Monitoring and coaching through lesson observation Free article: CPD: Less measurement and more development Free article: Challenging 
the most able Free article: Using the teachers’ standards as a framework for CPD and accountability Free article: Managing behaviour outside the classroom Free article: Managing pupils’ behaviour in lessons Free article: Keeping Children Safe Statutory Guidance Free article: Four steps to school improvement Free article: Finding a way through the jungle: The essence of leadership Free article: How to audit your whole-school literacy provision Free article: Professional development: the growing case for evidence Free article: Getting personal  with CPD Free article: Making performance appraisal an objective and helpful process Free article: Parent View — an update Free article: Raising pupil achievement through parental engagement: a practical approach Free article: Effective parental engagement

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Free article: Get ready to win strategic school improvement funding

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Change management and conflict

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Managing anxiety at work

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Interpreting data for 2017 performance

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Free article: Know your strengths

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Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectation

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Achieving an ‘Outstanding’ Grade: Focused on Excellence

Tony Powell outlines a step-by-step approach to support schools in achieving the accolade of ‘outstanding’ as defined by Ofsted.

Free article: HR and the successful school: A case study

Adrian Kneeshaw, Headteacher of Carlton Bolling College, gives a personal viewpoint of the benefits of bringing in the experts.

Free article: Leading the way to outstanding learner progress

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Free article: Attainment and progress: The Rochford Review

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Free article: Evaluating alternative and specially resourced provision

Tony Powell explains how inspectors gather evidence and make judgements on the quality of alternative and specially resourced provision.

Free article: Taking a school-wide approach to mental health and wellbeing

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Free article: The latest developments in education - January 2016

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Free article: Managing uncertainty

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Free article: The latest developments in education - September 2016

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Free article: Deconstructing Ofsted: Reflection after inspection

Tony Powell looks at how to use the feedback from your inspection in school improvement planning.

Free article: MAT expansion: Don’t let school improvement become a casualty

How can an expanding multi-academy trust ensure that school improvement doesn’t become a casualty of change? Colin McLean of Best Practice Network looks at the issue and offers some guidance.

Free article: Ten rules for outstanding leaders

Adrian Kneeshaw looks at how leadership is important to the success of the school, and how to lead effectively.

Free article: The governing body as a critical friend

In his second article on the headteacher and governor relationship, Tony Powell defines what is meant by a ‘critical friend’.

Free article: Developing an ethos of high expectations

Steve Burnage shares some practical strategies to enable school leaders to develop an ethos of high expectations in their schools.

Free article: The exam post-mortem

Matt Bromley considers how schools can learn from exam performance data and build this into school improvement.

Free article: Safeguarding: Everyone’s responsibility

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Free article: How do inspectors make the judgement about overall effectiveness? The Ofsted model

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Free article: Baseline assessment and SEND

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Free article: Deconstructing the link between SEND and poverty

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Free article: Using pupil voice to support school evaluation

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Free article: Challenging 
the most able

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Reputation management for schools

Published: Tuesday, 15 May 2018

PLMR’s Sam Dalton talks about how schools can manage reputational impact when a crisis hits.

Summary

  • Schools need to build a positive reputation so they can remain strong if a crisis occurs. 
  • Schools should be fully prepared for a crisis, having set procedures in place, and ensuring staff know how to respond if an incident happens.
  • It must be the absolute priority to establish key facts before any crisis communications materials are put together.
  • Schools need to communicate effectively to all stakeholders, including parents, staff, and the media.
  • Once a crisis has passed, members of staff should remain prepared should the issue resurface in the media, and take active steps to rebuild the positive reputation of the school.

While the most important goal for schools is undoubtedly to foster the educational environment in which students can fulfil their potential, effective reputation management is intrinsically connected to this. Communicating well with stakeholders means schools can showcase their excellent learning opportunities to a wide audience, and support the recruitment of both staff and students so they can secure higher levels of funding, and achieve their core aims. With today’s educational environment less segmented into different types of school, e.g. grammar and comprehensive, schools need to compete with a wider variety of institutions similar to their own.

The move towards multi-academy trusts (MATs) also raises the importance of effective reputation management. In large groups of schools, with thousands of students and hundreds of teachers in attendance in every day, it is an unfortunate inevitability that issues will arise, which can quickly pose a serious challenge for the trust. Whether it be a student safeguarding issue, a teacher that has made a mistake, or a poor Ofsted rating, it is crucial to deal with these issues appropriately, to maintain the strongest possible reputation.

I have outlined five top tips below that we at PLMR would provide to our clients to manage these situations:

  • Build a positive reputation.
  • Have clear procedures in place.
  • Get the facts straight.
  • Communicate effectively with key stakeholders.
  • Post-crisis communications.

Build a positive reputation

If a school or trust has already established a strong reputation, then overcoming a crisis will be much easier. From positive stories about academic results and extra-curricular achievements to thought-leadership pieces on best practice, maintaining a steady stream of news stories raises awareness of the school’s great work, and provides a firm foundation to build from when tackling a reputational issue.

Be prepared and establish clear procedures

All schools and trusts should have a clear protocol in place for when a crisis arises. This ensures everyone knows what their role is and how they should respond, and puts the school in a strong position to act swiftly and resolve the issue. When it comes to a crisis communications plan, the following points should be in place:

  • First steps checklist – i.e. what are the initial actions that the organisation must take when something goes wrong.
  • Key stakeholder list - your key target audiences, for example: parents, teachers and other staff members, key politicians and other local influencers, and members of the wider public and media.
  • Spokespeople – the key people within your organisation or key person (for example the CEO of the academy trust or Headteacher of the school) who would represent the organisation during the crisis and keep people informed of what is going on.
  • Your crisis team and a list of contact information – for example: your CEO, senior leadership team, and operations team.
  • Possible risks – what could occur that would be a threat to your trust or school? For example: a negative Ofsted rating, a teacher making a mistake, or students’ safety being put at risk.
  • Key messages – what are you going to say: how you will be putting things right, what you intend to do moving forward, as well as more general messages about your trust or school.
  • Draft press statements and template letters for external and internal stakeholders.
  • Media call log to document calls and enquiries – this will ensure that all enquiries are dealt with.
  • A press and social media protocol sheet – including scripts for staff members about how to handle potentially aggressive media enquiries, and pass it on to the correct people, e.g. your senior leadership team.

Get the facts straight

As soon as a crisis hits, ensure you have all the relevant facts and information. It is vital that your public statement is accurate, and contains no factual flaws that might be exposed by journalists. Having the facts will not only ensure your communications are as well-informed as possible, but will help handle the crisis itself. Sometimes you won’t have the full facts, for instance during an investigation, and in these situations your public statement will inevitably be less detailed. That’s normal – here you can let people know that a final outcome is still be reached.

Communicate effectively with key stakeholders

It is crucial that all strands of your communication, whether to internal stakeholders such as parents and staff, or external stakeholders such as the media and wider public, are joined-up and work in harmony. This is true both in terms of the timing and content of communication. You don’t want parents or staff to find out about a crisis for the first time from a sensationalist newspaper article. You need to ensure they are well-informed and reassured from the start.

Each situation is different and requires careful judgement, but internal and external communication must always be considered within one unified strategy.

Post-crisis communications

After the crisis has died down, come together as a team, and reflect on what can be learnt from the situation. What went well and what didn’t go so well? Did you limit negative media coverage, and communicate effectively with parents and staff? Asking these questions will help you improve your crisis protocol.

In addition, you should remain prepared for the possibility of the story resurfacing later on. Have a reactive media statement ready, and think of ways to build the positive reputation of the school or trust to put it in an even stronger position should this happen.

PLMR case study: school within an academy trust requiring immediate communications support

Schools always have to bear in mind Ofsted inspections. They play a key role in shaping perceptions of a school’s quality of teaching and learning, and affect parents’ likelihood of sending their child to a school. One of the schools we work for had received a ‘Requires Improvement’ rating from Ofsted, and we needed to act fast to communicate this news to internal and external stakeholders in a way that focused on the positives of the report, and minimised any reputational damage done to the school and its trust.

PLMR crafted a narrative focused on the school’s progress and upward trajectory, highlighting the work its new Headteacher was doing to raise standards and enhance the life chances of students. This resulted in a broadly positive story which focused on the changes the Headteacher had made, and the positive impact this was already having. While the ‘Requires Improvement’ rating was still mentioned, this happened within the context of a story which was predominantly positive and optimistic.

At the same time, PLMR drafted a letter to parents of children at the school, informing them of the rating early on, while explaining the improvements being made by the Headteacher. Overall, our proactive communications strategy meant the school was on the front foot with regards to how the Ofsted report was perceived, and resulted in a much more positive and optimistic narrative than would have been the case without the careful planning and coordination that went into our communications.

Toolkit

Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Sam Dalton is an Account Executive at PLMR, a leading education communications agency, specialising in PR and media relations, reputation management, stakeholder engagement, public affairs and planning and digital marketing. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

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