We’ve helped the Stop School Cuts campaign win back £20 billion of education funding over five years. Our strategy, storytelling and creative have mobilised parents, teachers and politicians to fight for children’s futures and make it politically unthinkable to underfund education.
Stop School Cuts is a coalition of six education unions, led by the National Education Union. Launched in 2016, it set out to show the impact of massive funding cuts by highlighting how much individual schools, and their pupils, stood to lose.
Three weeks before the 2017 general election, we joined to help the campaign reach swing voters in marginal constituencies using digital channels. And it worked: 750,000 voters switched their vote due to education funding policy. Soon after, the new government announced £1.3bn for schools.
This was a momentous win, but it wasn’t enough to undo all the damage. So, we worked with the NEU and others to keep up the fight, running organising programmes, training campaigners and using digital tools and tactics to mobilise parents, teachers and pupils, and ramp up the pressure on politicians.
We empowered people who had never taken political action before to lobby their MPs, organise events and lead local campaigns. We used targeted newspaper ads, signs outside schools and creative stunts to make it feel like the campaign was everywhere. And we were ready with rapid responses to every government funding announcement.
By two years into the campaign, we had kept the pressure up in the right places to make underfunding schools politically unthinkable. When Boris Johnson was elected Tory leader and became prime minister, he immediately pledged £4.6 billion for education.
In November 2022, 90% of schools were facing new cuts, so we relaunched the campaign. Within two weeks, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced £2.3 billion in education funding - a huge win that was credited to the School Cuts campaign by centre-right think tanks and journalists.
“There weren’t many rabbits pulled from the metaphorical hat in last week’s gloomy Autumn Statement – but an extra £2.3bn a year for schools for the next two years was one of them… In the middle of a fiscal squeeze, this is pretty generous, albeit politically essential to avoid two years of a noisy and damaging ‘school cuts’ campaign.”
CAPX, November 2022
We preemptively set out five tests that any funding announcement must pass in order to fix the school funding crisis. Activating our message via press and digital channels, we were able to lead the conversation, out-manoeuvre the Government and set the agenda for the debate.
We used storytelling videos to unpack the impact of school cuts, showcasing new spokespeople, like trusted headteachers, to add a human dimension to the stark numbers on schoolcuts.org.uk. Our position was clear: this wasn’t about asking for extra, but adequate funding for a decent education.
To win over voters in our target constituencies, we served localised ads to millions of people on Facebook, where communities of parents were most active. By showing the impact of funding cuts in their community, we drove traffic and conversions for the campaign. Later, we would draw on these new sign-ups for higher level action. To increase our organic reach, we designed highly shareable social media graphics.
We achieved more by thinking creatively and targeting our efforts where they’d have most impact - in marginal constituencies, with key politicians and at crucial moments. For example, in 2017 we ran a billboard ad in Birmingham, where some of the worst cuts were happening. In 2018, we projected a list of 18,000 schools facing cuts onto Parliament before the budget. And our banners and window posters about school cuts in local areas appeared in thousands of communities across the UK.
ONLINE TOOLS AND ORGANISING
We promoted an interactive school cuts map, created by Outlandish, that enabled users to see how much their school stood to lose and share this on social media. We also developed digital tools to enable thousands of people to put pressure on political candidates, call their MPs and write letters to news editors. And we supported people to organise action through peer-to-peer texting and a Facebook group for campaigners.