Forming and running a local campaign group
The Fair Admissions Campaign will be supported by local campaign groups across England and Wales. We’re just getting going so there really aren’t many yet, but why not look to see if there’s one in your area?
If there isn’t, then we would encourage you to form one. This page gives advice on how to do that, and what’s involved in running such a group.
Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign has helpfully provided a case study of their own experience campaigning against (and ultimately judicially reviewing) proposals to establish two highly religiously selective schools in Richmond-upon-Thames. In addition we’ve provided our own advice below.
Forming a group
If you’re looking to form a group then the first thing to do is to get in touch with us and let us know.
There are two things you will want to get sorted immediately:
- Name of the group: Assuming the group is happy to follow the Fair Admissions Campaign’s positions (and not go beyond them), then we would encourage it to use the name ‘Fair Admissions … [geographical group]’ and to adopt our branding.
- Geographical scope: Even dealing with a single new school proposal can be time consuming and we do not want groups spreading themselves too thinly. We would recommend that each group focuses on the area of just one local authority responsible for education, or a handful of principal areas in Wales.
So the name of the group would preferably therefore be ‘Fair Admissions Lancashire’ (for example).
Who else to involve
Naturally the greater the breadth and strength of support for your campaign the more successful it will be. Recruiting people to get involved in a campaign should be an ongoing activity, and you should be able to recruit more people as the profile of a campaign increases. However, pro-actively seeking out those who are likely to share your concerns and urging them to get involved should be a particular focus of any early work.
We recommend contacting existing groups in your area that may be interested in getting involved. This includes local humanist groups, Unitarian congregations, ATL branches, NUT local associations, other teaching unions and political parties. There are also student groups – AHS member groups and political youth groups. You should also contact local parents’ groups and other groups that may be interested such as women’s and LGBT groups, as well as religious groups that might be sympathetic, such as those that do not sponsor any local state schools.
If you contact us we’re also happy to ask our supporter organisations to contact their individual members and supporters in your local area – for example, the groups that run the networks mentioned above.
You can set up a good community website for free and with relatively little difficulty through Voice – for an example of this in practice and to see the types of pages you might want, see the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign website. You’ll also have to buy your own domain name, but this is pretty cheap – for example a ‘.org.uk’ domain costs just £6.98 for two years from http://www.123-reg.co.uk/.
You’ll also want to establish a mailing list, and get as many people signed up to this as possible (for example you could get the other local groups to advertise it to their supporters). We recommend you do this with MailChimp, which is quite user friendly and has a good free option.
We would also recommend you set up a Facebook page or a Facebook group – this may well become the main way in which different supporters communicate. Pages and Groups have various pros and cons. A page is intended for an organisation to broadcast its views to supporters and is easier for people to find. In addition, it allows administrators to view and moderate comments. However, groups enable individuals to work collaboratively on a campaign – which probably makes them preferable when you’re first getting going. You’ll need to register for Facebook to do this.
A Twitter account is also a useful way to communicate and gather followers, and takes little effort to maintain. It’s a good way to get your message to key individuals such as MPs, councillors and the local press, all of whom you can ‘follow’. Make sure you follow us as well!
Publicising the group
You can write a press release to announce the formation of your group, setting out what you’re about, what you’re hoping to achieve and when you’re first meeting. You can see examples of the kind of format that press releases should take by looking at the Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign’s – including their launch press release. Get in touch with local papers, magazines and radio in your area through their websites, and if you can, also give them a ring – it might be worth arranging to meet in order to establish a good relationship with the local journalist who’ll be covering your campaign. It should be reasonably easy to identify the right individual to contact, or at least find general contact details, but if you’re having trouble we’d be happy to help.
With respect to press releases, make sure to include a name, email and phone number for the person who can answer queries and provide further information. Give a back-up name and number if possible. If you do not want the information published before a certain date then mark it “EMBARGOED UNTIL…”, with a note of the date and time it can be released. You may like to mark your release as a “PRESS RELEASE” at the top, and give it a short snappy title summing up the contents. If you have background information that does not fit easily into the release, you can attach this at the end under a “NOTES FOR EDITORS” section. This is usually brief information, often in numbered points. Establishing a relationship with key local journalists is vital however, so you may like to precede or follow your email with a phone call to these people.
You’ll also want to get supporters writing regularly (almost every week) to the local press – or see if they will take an opinion piece. An ongoing campaign over a proposed new selective school could dominate the letters pages for months, keeping the issue a salient one. Different voices should write and you should avoid having a handful dominating the correspondence on your side.
Also consider local blogs – it may be an alien world to you but in many areas there are now really good blogs actively covering local issues and with a wide readership. It’s worth seeking these out. And you might also want to start a conversation in the right local talk section of Mumsnet – although Mumsnet rules forbid promotion and advertising so make sure you don’t do that but actually do start a real conversation on the issues.
Forming a committee
You’ll want to quickly form a core committee of people who are particularly keen to get involved. Ideally this will be a diverse group with religious and non-religious individuals, parents, teachers and governors – with parents, especially those directly affected by any proposals, having a particularly important voice.
In terms of the committee structure you will want a Chair and, if you are to establish a bank account, you will also need a secretary and treasurer. The bank may require you to have an AGM and constitution but this doesn’t need to be anything formal. RISC can provide an example on request.
Most of the communication can be done by email but it’s worth meeting from time to time (once every month or so), especially when you’re getting started and people are getting to know each other. Doodle is a free and easy to use tool for scheduling events involving many participants.
Running a group
In addition to the suggestions in the above section, there are a number of things that you should do on an ongoing basis to take action. You’ll want to look at other pages in this section for more in-depth advice specifically on challenging new and existing schools and local authorities, as well as writing to your MP, Assembly Member, local councillors or newspapers. There is also advice on complaining to the schools adjudicator.
- Identify the issues in your area – look at existing schools’ admissions policies and identify which schools are most selective. Work out when each of the existing schools next need to consult on their admissions policies (this must happen at least once every seven years).
- Organise public meetings – a good way to get to know your supporters and identify people who might like to get further involved.
- Be vigilant about new proposals – this means keeping an eye on the media for proposals for new schools or changes to existing schools. You can also set up Google Alerts to run searches for you. For example if you just want to search UK sites for new schools in Birmingham then you can set up a Google alert with “new school” OR “free school” birmingham site:uk. This will search UK sites for references to new schools or free schools in Birmingham. You can also monitor particular web pages, for example schools’ websites, for changes to the text using ChangeDetection.com.
- Establish the position of all the councillors in your area by getting their constituents to write to them and recording the replies. We’d also be interested to know about any replies you get so please tell us.
- Contact and arrange to meet with local MPs, Council and opposition leadership and Council officials. Even if you can’t convince them all it’s still useful to have strong, ongoing relationships. It’s worth meeting these groups regularly.
- Encourage supporters to become school governors who can influence their and other local schools as well as potentially being high profile voices. In addition, seek to identify governors and senior school staff among your existing supporters and encourage these governors and senior staff to join your campaign.
- Meet with other local schools to establish their positions.
- Submit questions to and make public statements at debates at council meetings. The Council’s website should offer advice about the process for doing this.
- Organise protests outside the Council chamber, if they hold an appropriate debate.
- Do some flyering outside schools, nurseries, day care centres and in town centres, or post flyers through letterboxes near proposed school sites. We have produced a sample leaflet you can use. If you are giving out leaflets on a public highway then make sure you have the correct authorisation from the local council – they may require you to buy a leaflet distribution license. Similarly, if you hand out leaflets at a shopping centre then make sure you have permission from the land owner.
- If you can fundraise from your supporters you can pay for flyers, to get an insert put into your local paper to advertise your campaign, and for other promotional activity. However, if you have the infrastructure then delivering door to door by hand may be most cost effective.
- Have a street stall. If you know of a local site where campaign groups often distribute material then you may be able to use the space too – investigate and reserve a spot.
- Challenge the Council, Department for Education or proposer if they’ve failed to follow the legal requirements for consultations.
- Run a local petition – there’s more advice about this elsewhere, but in brief, many councils provide a facility on their website through which a local petition can be run. This is likely to attract a lot of local press attention and is a good way to generate new supporters. In addition, many local authorities have a debate on any issue that gathers over 1,000 signatures. Richmond Inclusive Schools Campaign ran a petition through their local council’s website which said that no new schools should religiously select in admissions. This attracted over 3,000 signatures.However, we would only recommend this for better established groups as we would not want petitions flopping and getting no support! In addition, if a local Diocese is against you they might use their power and resources to support a counter-petition and get church attendees to sign it, potentially getting more support than yours, even if you carry much greater local support.
Tone of the campaign and responding to criticism
It can be quite disconcerting being criticised in public, and it is important that if you or the campaign do happen to receive criticism that you do not overreact. You should only respond to criticism in a way that you think will sway people with wavering opinions should the detractor’s claims go unchallenged. On the other hand, critical comments in places such as the letter columns of the local press, or on widely-read websites, can be helpful in providing further opportunities for putting your points across. In fact, the more extreme and unreasonable the comment, the easier it is for you to make clear that your argument is fair and reasonable. But it’s best to avoid getting drawn into public arguments in a way that will give your opponents unwarranted credibility and publicity. The campaign must be fair, principled, and respectful.
Campaigners may find, in particular, that they are the target of tired and false arguments of being anti-faith, against parental choice and opposed to faith schools. The Fair Admissions Campaign includes groups who support the presence of faith schools in the state sector, as well as some that oppose, and only has one aim – to prevent religious selection of children by schools. This is the only activity it seeks to restrict, and rather than undermining religious freedom, it seeks to enhance it by ensuring that children are not discriminated against on religious grounds. Our advice is to clarify your objectives if misrepresented, and to stick to (and repeat) your key messages. You might find some of our FAQs useful here.
Ensure that the tone used throughout is polite, respectful and not in any way aggressive. We’re here to make arguments for fairness and equality and against discrimination, and there is no need for us to in any way be hostile towards those who disagree with us.
How to do an interview
The campaign should take up any opportunities to be interviewed by local media. Find out who will conduct the interview and what they are planning to ask. Sometimes interviewers will do a preliminary sounding out on the phone or welcome an idea about the questions you would like to deal with – they will almost always have the same interest as you in getting your story across in a clear and interesting way. However, do not rely on interviewers necessarily sticking to their notes.
Before the interview decide on two or three main points that you want to get across and have answers ready for the most likely questions, and try to anticipate any difficult or probing ones. There is nothing wrong with admitting that you do not have all the answers, though try to work out effective ways of saying that, or of buying time to think. If you offer any personal views then make sure to distinguish them as such.