I was working on a story for the Guardian last month about a proposal to introduce universal free school meals when I rang a school, which already offers them, and asked to speak to the headteacher.
“He doesn’t give press interviews,” the receptionist told me. “He never speaks to the media?” I asked, surprised. “No, never. He just wouldn’t do that.” She sounded almost proud.
This kind of reaction isn’t uncommon. Some school leaders avoid talking to journalists because they’ve had a “bad experience” – from having their name or school name spelt incorrectly to being misquoted (serious, but rare). But instead of trying to build bridges with journalists – or investing in media training – many simply bury their heads in the sand.
Savvy headteachers understand that the right kind of press coverage can help to improve outcomes for learners. They value media training and make it their business to understand how the press operates, so they can make informed decisions about when to engage (and when not to). And they have a clear strategy in place for responding to journalists’ requests, which puts them firmly in control. Above all, they recognise that the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Securing local media coverage can be an effective way to attract prospective students (and their parents). An article or radio interview about your latest theatre production or fundraising efforts can convey far more about your school’s ethos and values than any advert – and is far more cost-effective.
As a job-hunter, what’s the first thing you’d do before applying for a new job? Google the school of course. A school that attracts positive media coverage is going to seem like a far more dynamic place to build a career. This can be particularly relevant if your school is located in a rural or remote area – or is facing challenging circumstances.
Influence the agenda
Most school leaders have strong views about how policy, curriculum and other changes affecting learners. Providing a case study or expert for a story or writing a comment article – particularly in the specialist or national press – is an effective way of positioning your school as a thought-leader in the sector. It is also an opportunity to influence and shape policy.
Positive media coverage can be an effective way of raising awareness – and even changing perceptions – of your school in the local community. This can be particularly relevant if it is going through a period of change – new leadership, new branding or a new name, for example. It can also create a “feel-good” factor within the community and can impress local businesses, who may be looking to offer work experience or take on apprentices.
You do not have to talk to every journalist who calls, but you should have a clear media strategy that has improving outcomes for learners at its heart, is understood by staff, and which puts you in control. Conference: What Journalists WhatImprove your understanding of the media and how to get more press coverage for your school. Meet journalists from the Guardian, Telegraph, Times, and TES along with SecEd editor Pete Henshaw at What Journalists Want – a one-day conference on October 16 in London. SecEd readers can enjoy an exclusive 10 per cent off using the discount code: WJWSCHOOLS. Visit http://lastwordgroup.com/training/what-journalists-want-school/