If there’s an issue you feel strongly about that affects your child’s schooling, there are ways you can make your voice heard locally or nationally.
Over recent years we've seen parent and teacher led campaigns, focusing on issues such as SATs, funding cuts and admissions policies. If there isn't an ongoing campaign you'd like to support, then start by contacting your local MP.
Writing to your local MP or a relevant government Minister
If you want to raise an issue at government level, one thing you should do is write to your MP. MPs are elected to represent the interests of their constituents – not the interests of their Party despite how it may appear. So it’s important that they know what those interests are. Remember that most MPs got involved with politics in the first place to help people, and build a better future. So they are usually keen to hear from their constituents and find out what concerns them.
How to write to an MP
You can find out who your local MP is, what other offices they hold (e.g. Secretary of State for Education, Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions) and where to write to them at the Parliament website. Usually there will be a Parliamentary address, at the House of Commons, and a constituency address, which may be the MP’s home. All MPs also have a parliamentary email address which will be in the format firstname.lastname@example.org. They may also have a constituency email – it’s better to address constituency-related matters to this one if you can.
You should address your letter to Mr, Mrs or Ms Whatever Theirnameis MP, unless they are a Cabinet minister, in which case they are the Rt. Hon (Right Honorable) Whatever Theirnameis MP.
Make it VERY clear that you are one of their constituents – including an address and postcode will do this for you. They are very unlikely to take interest in your issue if you are not. The exception is when you are writing to an MP because of their position in government, rather than because they’re your representative.
You can find information on every UK MP’s position, debate contributions and voting record on key issues, how active they are, and any business interests they have on the website They Work For You. Finding out a little about the issues your MP is most concerned about, and referring to them in your letter if you can will make it stand out. Remember, MPs get a lot of mail, not all of it very well thought through.
You should be polite, even if the MP is of a different political persuasion to you, and most importantly, be to the point. Don’t waffle – lay out the issue you want action taken on, with examples if you have them, and say what you want the MP to do about it.
If you are writing about a decision, complaint or similar that concerns a particular school, council or other organisation, there is little point writing to an MP until you have gone through the official channels. They will simply request that you do so before coming to them otherwise.
Those based in Wales can also write to their Assembly Member (AM) about most matters to do with education. You can find out which AMs represent you on the Assembly site.
Each Wales constituency is represented by one AM, then each of five regions in Wales by a further four AMs. So each Welsh citizen has five AMs representing them. Education is a “devolved” matter – that means that control of it has been passed by the UK government in Westminster to the Welsh Assembly in Cardiff. The Assembly controls things like the curriculum, additional learning provision, teaching standards and so on, and how the budget for education is divided across schools and other educational providers in Wales. The amount of money the Assembly has to spend on education is set by Westminster, though, so you would need to write to your MP rather than AM if you wanted to make a point about the overall levels of education funding in Wales.
Most MPs also hold regular “surgeries” where they deal with their constituents’ problems. It may be worth going along to one, especially if you have a pressing issue. You can find out about surgery times, dates and locations on MPs’ websites.
You can also write to the relevant Secretary of State and Ministers for a policy area. For education, these are currently:
- Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE, Secretary of State for Education – overall responsibility for education policy
- Vicky Ford MP – Minister of State for Children and Families - concerned with issues including SEN, childcare, early learning, school food/healthy schools
- Nick Gibb MP – Minister of State for Schools – concerned with schools
- Jeremy Miles MS – Cabinet Secretary for Education, Welsh Assembly
Having your say in your local paper
There are two main ways to get into your local paper – writing a “letter to the editor”, or interesting them in a story.
A letter to the editor is the easiest way to get in. Write a polite, fairly brief, letter, with the most important points in the first paragraph (in case people don’t read the whole thing). Keep it under 400 words – that’s around three paragraphs of newspaper column. Link to local issues wherever you can – mention your own child’s school for instance. Give examples of how the issue you’re concerned about is affecting people. So, if you’re writing about school cuts, talk about how your child’s favourite TA has had to leave and how that’s made them feel, or if you’re celebrating great engagement by parents, describe something like the way a successful initiative has improved children’s learning.
If you’re calling on politicians, local authorities or the like to take some action, explain what change you’d like to see, in your school or elsewhere. If you’re celebrating something your school, community or similar has done, perhaps include an invite to others to find out more or take part. If you have a local organisation, slip in the contact details or website address for it.
Local politicians – MPs and Town or Borough councillors - often scan the letters pages of local papers to see what issues are important in their area. So, if they see the same issue cropping up again and again, it may make them pay attention and do something about it.
Friends of the Earth suggest a neat trick to help campaigners take advantage of this. Organise a group of people to write several letters on the same subject over a couple of months. Don’t write so many that it becomes overwhelming, or looks fake, but just enough to keep the issue alive. That way, local politicians will see it as something they should be taking notice of. Of course, if you touch on something that’s important to people locally, this may well happen naturally anyway!