Communication winners and losers #4

Every month GKP identifies who has scored in the education PR stakes and who has had a communications management malfunction.

Communications #fail of the month

Education PR Communications Management

It takes a lot to cut through referendum noise at the moment. So raise a hollow cheer for Eton provost and former cabinet minister William Waldegrave, who threatened to resign the Tory whip if the government went ahead with plans to encourage companies to ask job applicants if they been educated privately. Lord Waldegrave damned this as a piece of “social engineering” that would discriminate against people whose parents had paid for their education.

Lord Waldegrave’s error was not in his argument. Why should applicants be penalized for the choices made by their parents? Do job applicants really hide the fact that they went to private schools from employers now, and would it have any impact on social mobility in any case? The problem was the manner in which he made it. The government’s proposals may be dumb, but did they really merit Lord Waldegrave’s over-reaction? 

A petulant threat to flounce out of the party if he did not get his way was foolish.  Worse was his attempt to portray the privileged, the “purged posh”, as victims. It’s a knee-jerk response many in the independent sector succumb to if they perceive a threat to their status. And it always backfires. Privilege, even pruned, is still privilege.

As Robert Shrimsley put it in the Financial Times, “I was privately educated and am now sending my own children to private school. I don’t feel guilty about this… But I cannot pretend it is fair… I find myself repelled by the self-declared victimhood of those with all the advantages as they seek to stop the less fortunate getting even a sip from their well… It is a martyrdom myth; an attempt by the least victimized in society to claim victim status.” Quite.

Communications #win of the month

University PR Communications Manage,ment

MOOCs (or Massive Open Online Courses for those not with an education acronym crib to hand) have been around for a few years. But they haven’t really taken off in the way enthusiasts had hoped. Completion rates have been abysmal – lower than 10 per cent in most cases.

So congratulations to the University of Leeds, which has repackaged its MOOCs in a “try before you buy” initiative. Students who complete its online courses will now earn credits towards a final degree. Admittedly, online course delivery isn’t the sexiest story ever. But by making MOOCs count towards something tangible Leeds has arguably done more for their future than any of the old, over-inflated hype.


Gerard Kelly is the former editor of the Times Educational Supplement and Times Higher Education. He is the founding partner of Gerard Kelly & Partners (GKP), a communications consultancy. GKP offers education PR, marketing, consultancy and communications management to UK schools, universities and business.