Communication winners and losers #12

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

The first month of the new year wasn’t bereft of communications failures. There was the Oxford college that circulated individual letters of rejection to all the candidates who had applied but had failed to get in – thereby ensuring that personal disappointment became global news. Well done, Hertford College. 

Later in the month we learnt that embattled Durand Academy had reached for its lawyers once again in an attempt to delay a disastrous Ofsted report. Dealing with the fallout after being branded inadequate is never easy for any school. But is it really wise for a public institution to threaten another with legal action? Can they complain if the public concludes that it is ultimately their money being wasted to sue themselves?

Education PR

The biggest public relations disaster in January, however, was the confirmation hearing of Donald Trump’s choice to be secretary of education, Betsy DeVos. Ms DeVos is billionaire donor to the Republican Party who has in the past claimed publicly funded schools were a “dead end”. So unsurprisingly senators were curious to know how she planned to oversee a department that spends $77 billion on public education.

Ms DeVos proceeded to give an interview that could have been scripted by Catherine Tate. She failed to understand the difference between growth and proficiency (or progress and attainment as we say in the UK); she struggled with the concept of “equal accountability” for all taxpayer-funded schools; and she said she believed guns had a place in school to “protect from potential grizzlies”. You can watch it all unfold here.  It's worth noting too that despite her performance Ms DeVos was still confirmed by the U.S. Senate, but only after Vice President Mike Pence was called in to break a tie that threatened to defeat her.

Communications #win of the month

Education PR

The NSPCC’s Childline did a masterful job highlighting how many children struggle with mental health. According to the charity, more than 50,000 youngsters contacted them last year with a serious mental health problem, a rise of 8 per cent over the past four years.

Of particular concern is the large numbers of young children who call – 12-15 year olds made up a third of Childline’s counselling sessions – and the gender imbalance – girls are almost seven times more likely than boys to seek help.


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.