London school survives damning Ofsted report

The West London Academy in Ealing is one of 15 city academies set up by the Government to turn around failing schools, involving business sponsors who contribute expertise and funding.

Campaign Ofsted report Client Reed Recruitment/West London Academy PR team Communitas Timescale August 2005
Budget £8,000

The former Compton High School, once deemed to be one of the six worst schools in the country, is now sponsored by Reed Recruitment.
However, the academy's first Ofsted report in July was highly critical, so it hired Communitas to manage a crisis comms programme.

Objectives
To secure more favourable reporting by drawing attention to the positive comments in the Ofsted report. To protect the academy's future by ensuring local parents, students and teachers continue to support it.

Strategy and Plan
Communitas went through the draft Ofsted report highlighting positive comments and signs of progress, such as improved Key Stage 3 results for 14-year-olds. The inspectors had criticised the academy's high number of exclusions, so part of the press statement mounted a strong defence of its tough policy, backed up by comments from Schools Minister Jacqui Smith, who had recently called for a zero-tolerance approach to disruptive pupils.

When the report was released,  Reed founder Alec Reed and academy principal Alastair Falk were out of the country. Communitas obtained a statement from Reed and drew up 40 Q&As with Falk before their departure, covering likely subjects. These were used to answer press queries and sent to journalists directly. The pair's absence meant the agency did not approach broadcast media.

Communitas called education correspondents on national newspapers to point out an article written for the BBC News website by Ofsted chief inspector for schools David Bell. In it he praised the progress being made by academies but said they needed longer to prove themselves.

The agency also highlighted different aspects in the report to particular newspapers, such as the tough line on exclusions to the Daily Mail. Recognising the need for support from the local press, Communitas arranged a tour of the academy's new building, which children were set to move into.

Measurement and Evaluation
The Guardian ran with the headline  'Schools inspector backs academy programme', and was even-handed in its coverage. The Times only briefly mentioned the Ofsted report, while The
Independent and the Daily Mail put forward West London Academy's stance on exclusions.

One local paper was less forgiving. The Ealing Gazette was hard-hitting – 'School faces heavy criticism' – but took a softer approach after its tour: 'Success may be at the end of a steep learning curve.' The Ealing Times' coverage was positive, as was that of The Times Education Supplement.

Results
Since the campaign, teachers have received support from parents, especially on the exclusions issue, and the academy is full for the new academic year. Richard Garner, The Independent's education editor, says Falk's comments about the Government backing a hard line on exclusions were effective, but adds: 'I would have done a longer, more critical piece if developments about the London bombers hadn't broken that day.'

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