CAMPAIGNS: Public Affairs - Pre-school given a Blair boost

Client: Pre-school Learning Alliance
PR Team: Fishburn Hedges and Wallace Connections
Campaign: Pre-Schools Matter
Timescale: October 19 97 ongoing
Budget: Undisclosed

Client: Pre-school Learning Alliance

PR Team: Fishburn Hedges and Wallace Connections

Campaign: Pre-Schools Matter

Timescale: October 19 97 ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

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

and parents.

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

arranged conference.

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

their decision-making.

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.

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