Educating Yorkshire, a good move or a PR disaster?

Education is a strange sector, not least because the launch of Academies has seen schools and colleges run more like businesses than the traditional classrooms that many of us remember. This in turn has seen many establishments get the numbers right but miss a fundamental point – if they are to run like a business then they need to communicate and as such need a strategy in place to do so effectively with all stakeholders.

As a business model, schools and colleges have a wealth of people that it is imperative that they communicate with, yet many still rely on the ‘letter home’ or email to parents in order to ‘tick a box’. Many have struggled since the introduction of Freedom of Information requests (FOI), which mean that journalists can gain access to data and develop stories that once would have been unfathomable.

The problem with those who work in education is that they don’t see the value in PR. They believe that they can carry on regardless as long as the league tables and Ofsted announcements give them glowing recommendations, the problem is that this, in my opinion, draws these organisations into a false sense of security.

Educating Yorkshire is surely a great example. There is no doubt that it is going to make great viewing and following the first series, Educating Essex, which made the principal and vice principal local celebrities, it will gain the headlines – however I can’t help thinking that after simply watching the adverts I would rather home school than send my child to this Academy.

So why choose to put your Academy forward for a programme like this? The coverage has to be balanced and with a series like this it is most certainly warts (or shaved eyebrows) and all! What would possess a head master who is clearly very proud of his achievements and the local area that he grew up in, stand up to be metaphorically shot at?

Lack of advice is the first thing. I can’t imagine that any PR agency in the land with half an ounce of common sense would put their client forward for this show. Children are unpredictable, staff are under pressure and the very nature of more than 30 hormone induced teenagers in a room together has disaster written all over it!

I could be proven wrong of course and this Academy could be inundated with people hoping to attend with parents leaping for joy that little Jonny and Susie have featured on the television as a result of a playground scrap or because they haven’t handed their homework in, but I doubt it very much.

I think it’s about time that schools, colleges and Academies started to take the role of communications seriously. As the very nature of the industry they work in becomes more competitive, they need to address the balance and start to promote what they offer and what makes them different.  It’s all very well saying that you run an Academy, college or school like a business but this has to be taken literally in every sense, which includes getting your communications in order.

As an agency that has worked with one of the leading Academy Trusts in the country, we know exactly what these organisations are faced with from parents, governors, the local community and the media and it isn’t an easy task to manage, but it is essential that it is handled with care.

For those who get it right they can expect to see headlines with glowing reports but those that get it wrong need to be prepared. It’s no good ringing a lawyer when things go wrong and the headlines aren’t as glowing as you would expect – you need a PR professional and someone who can put together a strategy that will reassess the balance.

As for Educating Yorkshire, only time will tell but I think this is one decision or ‘claim to fame’ that the headmaster of this particular Academy will regret.