Should heads be talking to paper?

A PR company hired by Outwood Academy Valley and Portland declined to arrange an interview with the headteachers this week, despite dozens of complaints and Facebook criticism about the schools.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 28th November 2011, 4:26 pm

The Guardian was seeking the school’s side of the story after parents raised concerns over disciplinary procedures at the schools, which have been taken over by Outwood Grange Academies Trust.

Previously, the paper could directly call Brian Rossiter and Elaine Hamilton who would readily comment on any issues before running a story.

But Open Communications, which is paid with public money to ‘facilitate media enquiries’ for the schools, demanded a list of questions and refused to set up a meeting face-to-face or by telephone.

We made numerous phone calls to Wakefield-based Open Communications, which represents a number of private sector clients.

The company said there would be occasions when it would be unable to meet our specific requests.

The Guardian requested an interview 48-hours before going to print but were told to supply the PR company with a list of questions before they would even consider arranging contact with the headteachers.

Parents who were already dissatisfied with the response to their concerns from the schools said they continued to be left in the dark after coming to the Guardian for help.

Our Facebook site was also flooded with 252 comments from both parents and pupils commenting on aspects positive and negative about life under the new academy regime.

Open Communications director Lindsey Davies said they required a full list of questions to be provided before they could begin to comment.

“I reiterate that we are not stopping you from having access to the Academies but we are simply facilitating the media enquiries we receive accordingly,” she said.

“We have not refused to do anything but have asked that you send through a list of questions - this is a perfectly reasonable request and very common practice.”

“Despite your comments both on the phone and in email that you have received a number of complaints from parents you have never once identified what these are. Without prior knowledge of the subject matters we are not in a position to comment, respond or make recommendations in relation to an interview.”

She added that they were keen to ‘develop’ a relationship with the Worksop Guardian.

“However, with emails asking for an interview with both principles (sic) ‘today or tomorrow’ there are going to be instances where we are unable to meet with your specific requests,” she said.

“If you can provide us with a list of questions or a genuine reason why we would recommend that principles take time away from teaching the children in the Academies then we will address this accordingly.”

l Do YOU think the Guardian should be able to interview the headteachers to discuss school issues? Email us at [email protected] to tell us what you think.