Lessons from the Campaign for Compulsory PSHE Education

Today I publish for the first time the inside story of how the campaign for compulsory sex and relationships education was won – read it here –  based on my experience leading the PSHE Association, the national body for PSHE education (the subject through which sex and relationships education is taught). It’s a great story of hard work by campaigners against the backdrop of the political machinations of the last few years and it holds some important lessons for other public policy campaigns, as set out below.

  1. Get your ask right

It is significant that in making the announcement, Justine Greening focused on the relationships element of the subject rather than the sex education element. Rebranding sex and relationships education as ‘relationships and sex education’ reflected a subtle, smart change of emphasis in my view and I think that those of us leading the campaign probably should have done this ourselves years earlier: charities often spend a lot of time campaigning but less time getting their ‘ask’ right in the first place, meaning that even the loudest calls can fall on deaf ears.

  1. Make sure the voices of practitioners and beneficiaries are heard

Ensuring that voices of practitioners and beneficiaries are heard in any campaign is hugely important. At the PSHE Association we focussed heavily on polling so that the voices that we captured could never be dismissed as anecdotes. Even when the UK Youth Parliament gained half a million votes for its ‘Curriculum for Life’ campaign (a greater mandate than any MP in this country), I could see ministers thinking ‘but that’s just a subsection of young people’. We needed polling of all young people to really get their attention. The same with parents and teachers. Polling brought credibility, and often media coverage too.

  1. Like or not, the media is essential to success

I understand why charities are wary about the complexity and nuance of their positions getting lost in the media, but for me the lesson from the PSHE campaign is that a subtle argument which no one hears is of little use to charities’ beneficiaries. Campaigners have to roll up their sleeves and make the best of it, taking professional media advice when needed (the best money I ever spent at the PSHE Association was on PR: agencies like Goldbug forced me to hone my message to make it more tabloid friendly which I hated – but it worked).

  1. Compromise is essential

Campaigners have fire in their bellies and the possibility of changing the world is what gets them up in the morning. Yet if they become too angry, the best can become the enemy of the good and their campaigns become ineffective. For me, the lesson is that charities need to be ready for the messy, dirty work of negotiation and compromise. This means building ‘broad church’ coalitions and in particular reaching out behind the scenes to those who would not be traditionally thought of as allies.

  1. It’s all about relationships

Trusting relationships with decision-makers are essential to make progress: if you are seen as dogmatic or antagonistic, it undermines your ability to work with those you are trying to convince. I loved going on tv and radio talking about the campaign but the most important work I did was behind the scenes, and it is essential that public campaigns don’t undermine private relationships.

  1. Resilience and determination are crucial

During my tenure at the PSHE Association there were plenty of moments when I felt we would never get there with the campaign. But we kept going and succeeded in the end. Charities need to build cross-party campaigns which will last beyond one Minister or one Government and once they have their message right, they need to be ready to repeat it over and over and over again until attitudes have changed. I think the best measure of our success is that it is now very hard to imagine a future government reversing the decision to make the subject compulsory. I think that’s what winning a public policy campaign really looks like – and it feels good.

Read the full story here

Keep Calm and Carry on Campaigning

As the battle between the government and charity leaders over the Lobbying Act continues, many smaller charities would have been forgiven for thinking that it was not safe to continue to campaign in pursuit of their charitable objectives. The concerns raised by charity leaders relate to Part 2 of the Act, and in particular clauses relating to charity campaigning during ‘election periods’ (defined contentiously in the legislation as the year leading up to an election). Both an independent review of the legislation and a House of Lords Select Committee have recommended that these concerns should be acted upon by ministers, but the government has refused to do so.

The issue about charities campaigning in ‘election periods’ is particularly vexed because in this age of political instability, we don’t know when the next election will be (check out the odds of the timing of the next election – basically, it’s anyone’s guess). The fact that an ‘election period’ is defined as being the year before an election means that charities have to perpetually work on the basis of being in an ‘election period’. Charity leaders rightly say that this creates uncertainty, and they point to the danger of charities permanently reining in their campaigning as a result.

Yet while unclear charity legislation affects everyone in the sector, particularly if it precipitates further legislative constraints on charities in the future, there should be no reason why the vast majority of charities should be affected directly by this particular law if they stick to the basics of a good charity campaigning. As charity law expert Simon Steeden of Bates, Wells and Braithwaites solicitors notes, as long as charities remain independent and do not encourage support for any particular parties or candidates, they can publish the views of parliamentary candidates and parties which relate to the charity’s cause and they can approach candidates and ask if they will sign a pledge which supports their policy (Steeden’s views are well worth reading in detail and inform much of this piece).

For most charities, seeking pledges of support from Parliamentary candidates is as political as they would want to get irrespective of the new law, but those which want to go further, and intend to spend more than £20,000 in England on activities which ‘might be seen as intended to influence the election result’ (for example, the publication of materials for the public or organising public events), need to register with the Electoral Commission. Charity leaders are right to state that the wording ‘might be seen as intended to influence the election result’ is loose but the Charity Commission has clearly stated that if charities continue to make sure they run independent and politically-neutral campaigns and events, they need not be ‘gagged’.

Whether or not elections are approaching, charity law and good practice dictates that charities must remain independent from political parties even if they might agree with a party’s stance on certain issues. Charities aren’t political parties and nor should they be: the law aside, they don’t serve their beneficiaries well if they align too closely with one party or the other. In this febrile political age, regardless of charity regulation, it is common sense for charities to stay ‘above the fray’ and to build campaigns which will resonate no matter who is in power.

My message to small and medium-sized charities is that while there are problems with the Lobbying Act, sector leaders are doing a good job in making the case and in the meantime, you should not be put off from campaigning, and should keep focussed on good practice:

  • make it about the issues, not about the individual parties;
  • build campaigns which aren’t attached to one political ideology but rather have cross-cutting appeal;
  • be ready to lay out the facts fairly and neutrally.

So, in short, be sensible, maintain your independence, make time to read the Electoral Commission’s guidance on this issue, consult your board to ensure they’re happy that what you’re doing is in line with the guidance and your charity’s objects, but don’t let yourself be gagged. Keep calm and carry on campaigning – your beneficiaries depend on it.

Bear in mind, it’s August!

Hayman Consulting Public Policy For Charities

“Bear in mind, it is August,” said Simon McCoy, the BBC Presenter, whose unenthusiastic description of the second annual dog surfing championships in California went viral this week. Here was a man losing the will to live, and in desperate need of news.

August is a great time for small charities to give McCoy and his colleagues what they need – good stories about issues that matter. While Parliament is in recess and many politicians and major public figures are on holiday, the newspapers and tv channels still have as much time to fill, and with the greatest of respect to the competitors in the dog surfing championships, I can’t help feeling the charity sector could provide them with something a bit more important.

At the PSHE Association, August was always a great time: with the teachers across the country off on holiday, the office was quiet and in addition to preparing for the start of the new term in September, we would always make a push on media coverage. While Ministers were technically on holiday, it didn’t mean their advisors weren’t monitoring the news, or that they weren’t checking social media themselves. Indeed, a story which might have sunk without trace had the chance of getting traction: not just the original release but also potentially follow up too. Further, if you do a good job, you can build links with journalists and get onto the databases which media organisations hold, all of which means you might be contacted outside of ‘silly season’.

It’s nice to see sector colleagues who take this opportunity:  this summer, I’ve seen the Centre for Crime Prevention, Mind and the Education Policy Institute getting good media pick up for important stories. It’s impossible to know, of course, but I suspect they got more coverage by releasing stories now than in September when Parliament returns and party conference season begins. So, my advice to charity leaders would be to remember Simon McCoy, bear in mind that it’s August, and get in quick!