Everyone’s Invited. A Five Point Plan for Schools in the Spotlight
We’re proud to be retained advisors to some of the biggest names in education in the UK. Most larger independent schools have been facing the realties of former pupils’ revelations of rape and bullying on the Everyone’s Invited website. Alongside this, many schools are receiving highly detailed and often harrowing letters from former pupils alleging horrific treatment at the hands of their peers.
Obviously, the papers are having a field day with this and a number of schools have found themselves in the spotlight in a way that makes for uncomfortable reading for staff, parents and former pupils. While there’s no magic wand that can make this coverage go away, it is possible to improve the outcome.
Here are five things that school Heads, SLT’s and governing bodies should be thinking about right now:
- Beware of over-communicating. It is clear that this is a sector wide problem. The temptation is for a school to overcommunicate because they are on the defensive. The more you say in the media, the more column inches you will create – and the media spotlight will fall on your school in particular if you’re not careful. And beware of over detailed letters to staff and parents. In our experience these often fall into the hands of the media.
- Beware of under-communicating. This is a serious and highly emotive issue and it needs to be addressed, and the school needs to be seen to be listening to its alumni. The key is not to look defensive or high handed. We advise direct and balanced communication with the audiences who matter to you – parents, future parents, alumni, pupils and staff. For the most part you know exactly who these people are and how to contact them. The best way to communicate with them therefore isn’t through giving an interview or a long press statement to the Evening Standard which will live forever on Google.
- Beware of over promising. Don’t put out statements that promise that no stone will be left unturned in the internal enquiries that are about to be launched. We know from alumni complaints in the aftermath of Black Lives Matter protests that the complainants will come back to the school in six months’ time to ask you what changes have actually been made. You’re going to need to be able to answer this question, so make sure you only promise what can be delivered.
- Beware of under promising. The only way to solve these issues is to put a process in place whereby pupils and former pupils feel able to report their experiences and that cultural changes that need to take place will be implemented. This isn’t just a PR exercise. It’s the right thing to do.
- Don’t do yourselves down. There’s a temptation to fall on your swords in the face of this coordinated attack. Yes the stories are horrific, and of course they should be investigated, using the police if necessary. But your schools aren’t terrible, in fact they’re probably fantastic and the majority of parents and pupils will agree. You need to remember that.
If you would like to learn more or are seeking expert school communications advice, please contact Paternoster Communications through one of the following options:
Phone: +44 (0)20 3012 0241