Client: Pre-school Learning Alliance
PR Team: Fishburn Hedges and Wallace Connections
Campaign: Pre-Schools Matter
Timescale: October 19 97 ongoing
Nursery vouchers, introduced by the Conservatives, allow parents to
chose between three types of nursery provision - maintained, private or
voluntary. The Pre-school Learning Alliance, the largest voluntary
provider and a charity, derives funds from local and central government
In 1997, 800 pre-schools were closed and it was predicted 1,500 would
follow in 1998. Excessive competition was blamed. Under the voucher
scheme, Local Education Authorities (LEAs) were able to admit pre-school
children into primary schools, creating a new income stream. Unlike
other forms of provision, class sizes were not regulated.
On election, Labour was sceptical about the value of pre-schools, while
many teaching unions and Labour-controlled LEAs believed nursery
education should be provided by maintained schools. The alliance worked
with two agencies - Wallace Connections and Fishburn Hedges - to put
across its view. The campaign won the IPR Sword of Excellence in Public
To stop the closure of pre-schools caused by the introduction of nursery
vouchers and to ensure the charity’s views were heard by key
Strategy and Plan
Fishburn Hedges worked in tandem with Wallace Connections, the charity’s
retained agency, on all parts of the campaign, providing public affairs
A carrot-and-stick strategy was adopted with the Government, encouraging
it to act before the figures on pre-school closures were announced.
Meetings were held with decision-makers including the Department for
Education and Employment, the Department of Social Security, No 10
Policy Unit and the Social Exclusion Unit. They were told pre-schools
were an example of Labour’s Third Way and could deliver many manifesto
commitments. Briefings with print and broadcast journalists were also
held, and the charity’s 20,000 pre-schools were sent petition forms.
On 6 May, the charity’s campaign day, hundreds of pre-school leaders and
children travelled to London to lobby their MPs.
Education Secretary David Blunkett was invited to address a specially
There then followed a procession through London, culminating in a fun
day on the South Bank, a balloon release and a reception at the House of
Commons. Elsewhere in the country, local awareness events were held.
The petition, containing more than 150,000 signatures, was delivered to
an all-party group of MPs, while children posed for the media with Tony
Blair, having delivered a cake for his 46th birthday.
The 1999 campaign is focusing on the shortcomings of maintained schools
for pre-school children.
Measurement and Evaluation
During the 6 May conference, David Blunkett announced pounds 500,000
would be made available to stem the tide of pre-school closures.
He also underscored the Government’s support for the pre-school movement
and the role it should play in Labour’s policies on expanding nursery
provision and combating social exclusion.
DfEE guidelines on early education have been amended. LEAs are now
required to involve bodies like the Pre-school Learning Alliance in
Extensive media coverage was achieved on 6 May, including Radio 4’s
Today programme and the BBC news, as well as articles in the national
and regional press.
Earlier this year, the Government announced a further grant of pounds
500,000 for struggling pre-schools and a review of the problems they
Because of limited resources, no formal evaluation was carried out. It
was also felt the change in Government policy spoke for itself.
The campaign has so far met its goals and Government support has been
mobilised. It is hoped the independent review, due to report in August,
will boost the campaign’s latest objectives.