Judge and Jury: Dulwich High School is still the same school by any other name - A PR face lift and name change are not enough to fix some schools, says Dick Davidson, joint director, Independent Schools Information Service (ISIS)

You can’t help but feel sorry for Dulwich High School for Boys. Formerly known as William Penn School, this south London comprehensive is the first state school to discover that a name change and an expensive PR makeover won’t save a school that has already gone past the point of no return, in both numbers and reputation.

You can’t help but feel sorry for Dulwich High School for Boys.

Formerly known as William Penn School, this south London comprehensive

is the first state school to discover that a name change and an

expensive PR makeover won’t save a school that has already gone past the

point of no return, in both numbers and reputation.



The pounds 25,000 Southwark Council paid to Shandwick may not seem much

in commercial PR terms, but to a school, it’s a small fortune - half the

price of the new computer network Dulwich High also got in the 1996

’relaunch’.



But did anybody really think that the new name would cause some of the

lustre of the nearby, independent, Dulwich College - alma mater of Bank

of England governor Eddie George - to rub off on its down-at-heel

neighbour?



When, however, poor old Dulwich High enters the dinosaureum of redundant

schools, it will find itself in upmarket company. Quite a number of the

independent schools which have closed for good in the last decade have

done so in spite of a last-minute burst of frantic and fruitless PR

activity.



For some school governors, only when all else has failed is PR the magic

wand which will transform everything. Too late, too late.



The reason why even good, successful schools - state and independent -

should take PR seriously is because its focus must primarily be on

parents.



In the independent sector, we know from our own research that for the

vast majority of prospective parents, the most important thing about a

school is its reputation. And the most effective mediators of that

reputation are its current parents: 40 per cent of parents make their

final choice of school because of what other parents tell them about

it.



The inescapable implication for all schools is that every member of

staff has a PR responsibility. I wouldn’t have wanted to be the PR

consultant who told the battered, demoralised staff of Dulwich High that

how they handled the remnants of 5Z who weren’t bunking off on a Friday

afternoon had implications for the school’s PR, but it’s true.



And the effect that all the PR activities schools undertake - media

relations, newsletters, performances, community activities - has on the

morale of current parents is just as important as their direct impact on

the surrounding community. As one school press officer put it to me

recently: ’It’s all about managing the chatter.’



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