building a positive image in the community
Schools are becoming increasingly aware of their image in
the community. Many schools are realising that working positively with their community
to ensure a positive image is an important part of the whole-school development
This heightening of awareness over the importance of
a schools image can be put down to a number of factors:
competitive nature of many schools in overlapping catchment areas
effect of student recruitment on school finances
The need to dispel negative
publicity about Ofsted inspections, failing schools and special measures
purpose of this article is to underline the importance of achieving a positive
school image and give you range of practical strategies to help you improve your
schools image in the community.
Why is a positive
Studies of schools with a positive image
in their community show that in general they have the following characteristics:
- Exam results are good
- They are oversubscribed
- High student numbers means they are often well-resourced
- Staff morale is good
are motivated and care about their school
- Parents are
more likely to take an active role in helping the school
schools with a strong track record in these areas obviously have a head start
in projecting a positive image, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that even
schools with unfavourable characteristics can improve their image
through a targeted campaign. This enhanced image has been shown to have a positive
influence on student and staff morale, exam performance and student behaviour.
A strategic approach
a carefully planned strategic approach is the key to a successful PR campaign.
The initiative should be overseen by a member of the senior management team, or
by a suitably qualified member of staff with a management allowance.
ability to keep to tight deadlines, consistency and a capacity to build close
working relationships with journalists are the key skills this co-ordinator needs.
Getting the whole staff behind them and their efforts is also vital. The flow
chart summarises the steps that should be taken in a school PR campaign.
is important to remember schools with good internal morale will tend to find it
easier to project a positive image. If your school doesnt, then consider
tackling this key management issue first. What are the factors affecting morale
and what can be done to improve these?
Feel good about
yourself and the community will feel good about you
that feel good about themselves can easily build a positive image in the community;
those that do not will wonder why other schools always get the good publicity.
Good reporting in the press about the achievements of the staff and students may
be one key development the school needs to realise its worth, so the two areas
are obviously linked.
Developing a good working relationship
with the local community is vital. Organise events where parents and the public
can learn about your school and get involved in activities (eg open evenings,
an after-school computer club, quiz nights).
views are important
Encourage the community to see the school
as a resource for them as well as their children and grandchildren. Many schools
will already have a valued community education programme, but think of innovative
ways to expand your provision, perhaps using some of the new funding streams such
as the New Opportunities Fund.
Carrying out an anonymous questionnaire
on local views (involving parents and non-parents) about your school can be very
worthwhile and revealing. It can also identify some priorities for your PR work.
If you do one, however, be prepared for some hard-hitting comments. Look at all
criticism as a positive action for change.
A regular school
newsletter or magazine can be an excellent way of communicating the right messages
as well as celebrating the work of students. Sponsorship and advertising by local
businesses can help with costs and the production can be carried out in conjunction
with students, giving them valuable skills at the same time.
schools are now discovering the huge potential of websites to communicate with
their communities. Sites can be set up and maintained easily using modern software;
even a simple news site is a good start.
Learn to manage
It is important to realize that a school should
be prepared to manage the media in order to portray the institution in the best
possible light. Although this does not, of course, mean putting out false information
about your achievements, careful handling of the press is paramount. Various methods
should be employed.
Build a contacts list
summary of key press contacts and their addresses, phone/fax numbers and copy
deadlines should be one of the first things prepared. The table below will help
you draw up your own contacts list for your particular area adapt it to
Detailed research at this stage will reap benefits
when the stories break. Dont forget the free local papers, which have very
wide circulation and are often desperate for good stories.
Writing press releases
It is of paramount importance
to learn how to write good press releases. An annotated example is shown below
to illustrate the essential elements. Although your stories can be phoned through
to journalists, having all the facts in writing really helps them and will increase
the chances of it making it into print.
Fax is often the preferred
option for receiving press releases, but email, with its obvious advantages of
speed and lack of retyping, may soon supersede it. Ask your contacts how they
prefer their copy to be received.
A picture sells a story. So photo opportunities are a great way
of getting press coverage. If a newspaper photographer has been sent to take pictures
its more than likely the editor wants to cover your story.
things up properly and get all the key people in place for example the
student who has won the competition, with their teacher and the prize-winning
piece of work. Try to cast off any concerns about appearing in newspaper photos
and encourage staff and students to do the same.
These are usually reserved for major press launches. They need
careful advance planning and might be preceded by a press release and combined
with a photo opportunity. Usually several different journalists will be present,
from print, radio and perhaps television. Choose your room carefully; staging
the event next to a Year 11 class with a supply teacher could give you completely
the wrong angle!
to popular belief, newspaper journalists, particularly local and regional journalists,
are generally not desperate to root out the scandal or negative story about your
school. They are much happier to report success stories, good people stories and
genuine good news the kind of material that so frequently comes out of
Cultivate close relationships with your local journalists
and they will serve you well. Keep them informed, pay them a visit at their office
and be professional with them.
Radio and television
Although you will only rarely get the television cameras into
your school (they tend to be interested in stories of regional interest
or the kind of stories youd rather not see reported), radio is certainly
an underused medium by schools. Local radio stations are often very keen to receive
news from their community and many will welcome the chance to use some audio from
a school spokesperson.
Dont be put off by this. Modern
digital recording techniques mean that if your interview is pre-recorded it can
be cleaned up prior to broadcast and often sounds really polished good
PR in itself! Radio is particularly good at reaching large audiences locally and
can be an excellent medium to communicate your news.
stations also have a community feature where appeals for help and other items
of local interest can be posted. Give your local station a call and see what they
are interested in.
If you have a really good story consider
television. Phone the editor of your local news programme and sell your story,
explaining why it is photogenic or interesting.
They may well
have some space to fill, but be aware that filming is very time-consuming, often
requires things to be staged and you must be prepared to be accommodating to the
needs of the producer once they are on your site. But its worth it
positive TV coverage is a great morale boost.
Every school should devise a plan for how to
handle the media in the event of a major crisis. There is inevitably the potential
for damaging (and sometimes insensitive and hurtful) reporting if such a story
breaks, so it is crucial that a clear strategy is devised. The main factors to
Who will be the spokesperson? There should be
one senior figure who carries out all interviews, usually the headteacher or chair
How should the LEA be involved? Find out in advance the LEA
policy and get a contact name to keep on file they may wish to get involved
and you will be glad of such support.
What information should be passed on
to the press? It is vital to keep them informed and issuing no comment
is the worst thing to do, as it will only lead to speculation.
media crisis plan to paper and make sure the senior management team member on
duty knows where it is.
that despite all your best intentions the time will come for a bad news story
on your school to appear a drug incident, vandalism, bullying or another
unfortunate incident. Try to put this in the context of the many years of positive
articles that preceded it, and will no doubt follow.
an opportunity as soon as possible for a positive story and remember the saying
that todays newspapers are only tomorrows chip papers. Good luck with
your school PR work!
Brin Best is head of geography
at a school in Yorkshire. He has written on raising school profiles and funds.