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How to react to regulation, funding and restructuring issues

Communications and marketing teams will have to deal with all sorts of issues beyond their control like industrial action, Ofsted reports, and intervention from the further education (FE) Commissioner.

The comms and marketing team cannot, and should not, deal with these situations alone. However, a strong comms strategy will make a big difference to the public’s perception of the college. Below you'll find some information about dealing with an poor Ofsted report. In this guide, you'll also find information on industrial action, FE Commissioner intervention, and restructuring and redundancies.

Ofsted reports

An Ofsted report remains one of the most powerful drivers of a college’s reputation. Parents, staff, media, MPs and other partners often use it as a shorthand marker for quality. If the inspection is not a success, a college could face a major reputational challenge.

Communications management will not, and should not be expected to, directly address any substantive quality issues raised by a report or any disagreements between a college and Ofsted on the inspection process itself. But communications can be used to reassure staff and students, to provide balance and perspective and to reinforce partnerships that make a positive difference to the people who work and study in a college.

Your college will be told by the inspection team when your report is due to be published, but it is normally five weeks after final day of inspection. If the report is delayed for any reason your college will be told. The report will be published at midnight and will appear on Ofsted’s website – just type in your college’s name. You can set up an alert directly on Ofsted’s website, so you get an automated email when the report is published. To do this, enter your college name, scroll down, and put your email address into the box.

Before you issue your official press statement in response, it is worth checking there haven’t been any last minute changes made to Ofsted’s final report.

There is no one size fits all piece of public relations advice for colleges handling communications related to a disappointing Ofsted report; communications strategies will depend on the detail of the report, the type of college, the wider reputational context and much more. There are, however, some common experiences and tactics that might help you develop those strategies.

Colleges and schools do not have to wait for inspection to begin drafting a communications plan – the basics of timing, key spokespeople, key messages (dependent on result) and channels can be covered well in advance.

As well as a press release, it’s also worth sending out letters to staff, students, parents and other stakeholders including your local MP and councillors. All communication you send out should include the same information, pulling out positive comments from the report.

Be very wary about criticising Ofsted in any external communications. There is a considerable risk that the college will be seen to be seeking to shift the blame for poor performance and unwilling to address weaknesses. Instead, taking accountability for any failures and making it clear that work is already happening to improve things, can show the college is being open, honest and realistic about Ofsted’s judgement. Make sure you include a link to the full Ofsted report in all communications.

If appropriate, it’s worth approaching your MP or local councillor to see if they are willing to provide a supportive comment.

Colleges with procedural queries about inspections are encouraged to contact AoC’s Policy Team for advice.

Ofsted reports, both good and bad, are almost always covered by the local media. Colleges will usually want to highlight the positive elements of a report and PRs need to do the legwork here and make sure all the positive angles are clearly presented to the media. Offer, where possible, a strong human interest story to illustrate the positive elements of a report.

If appropriate, stress the college commitment to addressing substantial and substantive issues raised in a report, explaining how the college plans to improve, or has improved provision since the inspection took place.

Be aware that the media will often push for information on possible restructuring or redundancies because of an inspection, prepare a response to these lines of enquiry in advance.

Include a detailed quote from the principal on the PR. The more detailed it is, the less likely it is that the media will want to do a formal interview. If a formal interview is requested, make sure to ask what it would cover that isn’t covered by the quote already provided.

Press releases should be sent as soon as the report goes live on Ofsted’s website.

AoC would strongly encourage the college principal and chair to meet your local MP(s) as soon as possible once you know the result of your Ofsted inspection, regardless of the final grade. It is preferable, and courteous, that they find out from you rather than via the local newspaper or gossip.

If your inspection hasn’t gone well, you need to invite your MP to college to explain the background to the inspectors’ conclusions, where you will be improving the college and reassure your MP that you have a plan in place to improve the education and training provided to their constituents.

If you have concerns about the conduct of the inspection, or the expertise of the inspectors, it is worth raising this with MPs, as there is ongoing discussion about improvements needed to Ofsted inspections.

It is worth remembering that your MP meets countless local stakeholders as part of their weekly duties. For example, he or she will meet school heads, local councillors, business people and parents through the local Party, meetings and events etc. So, it is important the MP understands what is happening at the college post-inspection so he or she can, in turn, praise or defend your college’s reputation. For further advice on liaising with your MPs on serious issues, contact AoC’s Public Affairs team.

For more information on how to deal with industrial action, FE Commissioner intervention, and restructuring and redundancies, click here.

For support or advice, please contact Press and PR Manager Kate Parker on