Head teacher scores top marks for radio interview

On our media training courses we stress to our delegates the importance of painting pictures with words and taking the audience on a journey.

It plays a crucial role in bringing messages to life and helping those watching and listening to visualise the problem or solution that is being discussed.

One of the most powerful ways of doing this is through personal examples. Not only do they connect with the audience, but they help to create a human side to an organisation and help spokespeople sound more natural.

A spokesperson gave a perfect illustration of how to do this during a radio interview on Friday.


Clear picture

Siobhan Lowe, head teacher of Tolworth Girls School, appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme to discuss education funding. The interview followed the news that 7,000 head teachers in England had written to 3.5 million parents saying that schools are facing a ‘funding crisis’.

And Ms Lowe’s personal examples, which she included in her first response, painted a clear picture of the hardships schools are facing.

She said: “I have reduced the number of teaching groups. I have reduced the number of options the students have. I’ve increased class sizes. I’ve cut critical services such as student support workers that work with our most vulnerable. I’ve got increased numbers of students who have statements or educational health plans, but I’ve got a reduced number of teaching assistants.

“I personally have cleaned the school and washed the toilets. My girls are looking at me and feeling so sorry for me that they are picking up the hoover and doing it with me.

“I’ve cleaned doors, I’ve served in the school canteen.”

The part about cleaning loos, in particular, stands out. Its attention grabbing because it feels unusual and suddenly the listener begins to picture just how bad the situation must be.

It takes the story beyond the ‘funding crisis’ headlines and enables the audience to see what the impact on schools is on a daily basis. And because they have been taken on that journey and can picture the issue, they are more likely to care about the outcome.


Other media skills 

But that’s not the only part of this interview that I liked.

There was, for example, a good use of figures. Rather than talking about the size of her budget, Ms Lowe broke it down into much smaller, more relatable numbers. She told presenter Justin Webb that the school has just £10 to spend on providing basic equipment for each pupil per year. For science subjects, it is £1.50 per student per year.

There was also some emotion, a powerful tool in a media interview, as she spoke about her ‘embarrassment’ of not having enough money.

She said: “As a head teacher you are almost embarrassed to admit that you can’t support the students in your school. It is a terribly embarrassing thing to admit that you don’t have the money because you need to provide an education for the students.”

If you listen to the interview, which you can hear here at 1.17 for as long as the broadcast is available, you’ll notice that Ms Lowe is actually asked relatively few questions. That’s because her content is strong and informative and the reporter knows it will engage the audience. In short, she has control, something else we discuss at length on our media training courses.

When she does face a tough, possibly unexpected, question about the link between school exclusions and knife crime (a hot topic currently), she does not sound phased. Nor does she stick to the ‘true or false’ framing of the question.

It’s not just us who feel Ms Lowe did an excellent job in this interview. As well as the praise on social media channels, it is worth noting that some of her live interview was used again as a sound bite clip on the same programme an hour later.


And it formed the basis of an article on the BBC news website, under the headline ‘Head teacher talks of cleaning loos amid funds shortfall’, as well as in The Times.

Head teacher says funding cuts have forced her to clean the loos The Times

Creating a repeatable sound bite from a live interview and generating content for other channels are signs of an interview done well. Top marks.


Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.


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