How to keep the media sweet - and on your side

* When a journalist rings you up about an incident, play for time - don't try to answer questions there and then. Ask the person's name, telephone number and deadline and say you'll ring back. If the deadline is immediate, just say you are looking into the situation, and can't say anything more.

* Make sure all media calls are directed to one person. If another person is involved, make sure you square the story so you are both saying the same thing. The best person to deal with enquiries is the head - journalists don't like to be palmed off on anybody else.

* Prepare a statement explaining what has happened, why it happened and what you're doing about it. Try to get the positive aspects across.

* Think who else you have to inform, such as the education authority or chair of governors. If it's really bad news, you might want parents to get your version before they read or hear about it.

* Stick to your statement. If you waffle to journalists they may not get the bits of the statement you want but take something else. Put out your statement and don't add to it.

* Try to retain the initiative, which is to show what you're doing about it.

* Keep parents and staff informed about what you're doing every step of the way.

The Secondary Heads Association and the National Association of Head Teachers offer their members help and advice in dealing with the media.

Tim Devlin is a former journalist who advises and has written on media relations for schools.

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