Selling the message of protest

26th April 1996 at 01:00
The Educational Institute of Scotland's funding campaign was inspired by the success of the march and rally which the union organised in Edinburgh in alliance with parents and local government. The campaign was due to be launched just before the new councils took office since everyone knew that they would immediately be faced with a funding crisis and the need for cuts, which would be blamed on central government.

The launch date had to be postponed because it came only days after the Dunblane tragedy when all minds were focused elsewhere. Now after the Easter holidays and almost a month into the life of the new councils, the timing of the campaign has turned out right. From the Highlands to East Ayrshire councils have been spelling out the extent of the damage they will have to wreak on schools.

Most council leaders make no pretence at claiming educational rationales for their targets. The impulse has been entirely financial, which makes such decisions both easier and harder to defend to aggrieved parents. The blame can be laid at the Government's door. On the other hand, parents are not being told that their children will enjoy a better experience in a bigger or more modern school.

Parents asked to attend meetings at which the fate of their school is being announced will need no reminder of the funding crisis the EIS seeks to highlight. But the union hopes to show the extent and depth of the problem. Higher education features in its campaign as well as schools. Lack of money is not a new phenomenon, although some of the 40,000 who marched in February may have thought that things had suddenly got worse.

Underfunding of education is chronic and has to be continually brought to the forefront of people's attention. That is the justification for the advertising campaign. In style it resembles a party political campaign at election time. That is no coincidence. At every election the EIS asks the parties to make education a priority, and they all say that it is. In the current pre-election period teachers and parents want assurance that the rhetoric pouring out from all parties assumes substance.

So although billboards lose their freshness and their messages are replaced by those of other attention seekers (soon no doubt the parties themselves), the EIS's campaign is one which has to run up to the election and beyond. That need not only be through visual messages: it can most effectively be in terms of voter insistence that the parties deal in educational realities.

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