For whom the bell tolls (with apologies to Ernest Hemingway)

26th September 2012

Eastbourne once more finds itself under the national media spotlight. TV crews, news reporters and photographers hurtle down to our fair town to expose a murky a tale of love, stupidity, heart-break and a ruined career at Bishop Bell school.

Journalists are having a feeding frenzy on facts, gossip, hear-say and innuendo. They will quiz friends, neighbours, teachers and politicians until they run out of things to say.

Then they will scour for other angles to keep the story alive. Sussex journalists who know the school will be popular with their colleagues from the national newspapers and TV stations. They have local knowledge and can pass on tit-bits and explain some of the other issues that have taken place at the school within the last few years.

And let’s not forget social media. It is a salutary lesson to remind ourselves that our jottings and rambling blogs leave an indelible footprint. As teacher Jeremy Forrest and student Megan Stammers will discover on their return, many of their innermost feelings are now being regurgitated in the national and local press.

The public torment and painful exposure will continue until the couple return. National journalists will bid for interviews with Megan and the debate over the rights and wrongs of cheque-book journalism will rage.

Eventually, peace will return to the lives of Megan and her parents, although the scars will run deep. Nobody forgets a bruising encounter with the press pack.   

And what about Bishop Bell? For me, this could be the worst tragedy.

As a youngster growing up in Eastbourne in the 60s and 70s, Bishop Bell did not have the happiest reputation. But when Terry Boatwright took over, boy, did he turn things around. The school now has an excellent reputation and Terry is admired within the teaching world and the wider community.

At the moment, Mr Boatwright will struggle to get his voice heard and project a balanced view of the school. But when the journalists have gone back to London, he will need to start the healing process.

Communications will become paramount. The head needs to list his various audiences and establish how he will talk to them. More importantly, he will need to decide the all-important message.

He needs to speak from the heart and speak with brutal honesty. He needs to share his pain over this episode and then explain what his team are doing to put things right.

This wound will leave a scar, but I believe Mr Boatwright has the skills to make the healing process as pain-free as possible.

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