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Critical Analysis Of Barnardos’ Educational Disadvantage Campaign

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  • Category: Education

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Barnardos is one of the most well known children’s charities of Ireland. It is dedicated to more than 12000 underprivileged children and their families. The main aim of this charity organisation is to ensure that all the children of Ireland get maximum opportunities and support so that they are able to utilize their full potential. Over the years Barnardos has been running many advocacy campaigns to ensure that it gets successful in fulfilling its mission of helping children whose well being is at stake. One of its current advocacy campaigns is known as Educational Disadvantage campaign. The aim of this campaign is to bring to the notice of the government and policy makers that no matter what the economic climate of a country or the world in general is, whether there is recession or not, children’s education should always be prioritized otherwise it will have a negative effect on both their present and future. Barnardos feels that the government is not paying enough attention to children’s education. A government that is proactive to the children’s educational needs is the only source of hope that can guide underprivileged children to a path of all-round growth and financially secure adulthood.

Educational Disadvantage Statistics

  • More than 20 days of school gets missed by 84,000 children who are below 16 years of age.
  • 20 per cent children across Ireland leave school without completing their school leaving certificate program.
  •  Basic reading and writing is a big problem for 1/3 of the total children living in the disadvantaged areas.

Target Audience

Since this campaign is aimed to provoke a positive action from the government, the government is naturally its main target audience. Apart from this the campaign aims to gain support from all those who are involved in or is concerned about the Irish education system in which social inequalities are still inherent.

Message Design

A creative idea was worked upon to let the government know its shortcomings. The message took the form of a report card which graded the government’s performance in the following six areas:

  • Pre school and school readiness
  • Literacy and numeracy
  • Dropping out
  • Out of school activities
  • School costs
  • Support for children and teachers

All the above-mentioned areas were mentioned in the subject category of the report card. In the grade category, how the government has scored so far was mentioned in the form of grades like d, e, f etc. In the comments section of the report card the current statistics related to each area was mentioned. ‘Government must do better’ was the final verdict of the report card. The grades and remarks were written in striking red ink just as a teacher does for a student who does badly in exams. This approach proved successful in capturing attention, gathering interest, and provoking desire to read more. It also dictated constructive action from the target audience.

Objective Setting

Since Barnardos is a well-experienced organisation as far as running advocacy campaigns are concerned, it did not falter in setting a clear objective.  This campaign rolled out in the year 2006 and at that point of time the objective was to make government increase funds for the education of poverty-ridden children. The campaign is still on, and due to the current economic downturn the objective has been slightly reshaped so that the government does not lays any excuse for their inefficiency. Hence the objective of the campaign now is to coax government that come what may, the issue of removing educational disadvantage should acquire one of the top positions in their budgetary agenda. The following are the specific objectives as they appear in the official website of Barnardos.

  • “Extension of the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance to all recipients of Family Income Supplement.
  • Roll out of a national schoolbook rental scheme.
  • Further resource the National Education Welfare Board and National Educational Psychological Service.
  • Roll out of free, universal early childhood education and care places to all children for one year prior to joining primary school.” (Educational disadvantage, para.4)

Choice of Media

Since all the advocacy campaigns of Barnardos is aimed at people to raise their voices, the choice of media was based on the objective of getting maximum support from all those who cared about this grave issue. Hence a system was set up in which people could fill up a postcard available in the different shops of Barnardos. This postcard was also downloadable from the company’s website. This was not the only way in which public opinion was gathered, rather people were also encouraged to email their experiences regarding educational disadvantage that they have been a witness to. All those who cared were in fact, made a medium of bringing this issue to the notice of those who could facilitate the desired change. For this Barnardos provided template letters to people and enabled them to send these letters to their local media and local representatives. It also helped them with the contact information of these agents of change.

The most effective media was the report card designed by Barnardos. This report card was sent directly to the government so that it gets a feel of its weaknesses and areas that requires improvement. This report card was based on the personal experiences as well as the postcards that were filled by the public and hence contained the most authentic information. Additionally the detailed views of the people were sent to the Minister of Education so that she gets an insight of the extent of Barnardos’ attempt of erasing educational disadvantage, the extent of public concern that is revolving around this issue and the amount of support it is getting. Since the inception of this campaign, the charity organisation takes up the issue during the national budget process by making recommendations to increase funds in the children’s budget, which it produces every year and deliberately coincides it with the time of budget allocations.

Influence on decision makers & Networking

The message and the vehicles through which it was sent delivered positive results. It had a strong influence on not only the decision makers but also those who were engaged in imparting education. According to the Barnardos official website “We received public support from one of the key stakeholder groups – teachers – when the Barnardos ‘Could Do Better’ campaign was referred to and publicly praised on the platforms of the main teaching union conferences that year.” (End Educational disadvantage Para. 6) Since its inception this campaign has also become the center of many parliamentary debates. Many seminars too have been designed around it and this issue is constantly under public and policy maker’s attention. As a result according to the latest news, Budget 2009 has raised a fresh ray of hope especially for children under threat and their families.

It is a nice gesture from the government to have announced “the introduction of a free pre-school place for all children the year prior to joining primary school.” (Press release, para. 1) The government’s decision that has come forward in the freshly released budget to not make any reduction in the basic social welfare rates can also be attributed to the calls made by Barnardos to not temper with the basic priorities even during the time of recession. The issue had become party manifestoes of the main political parties, which speaks volumes about the influence it had in the political circuit. However things would have looked brighter if the budget 2009 would have brought some news of increment in the sector of education facilities. This indicates that there has been neither very disheartening nor very exemplary influence on the decision makers, and the campaign would have to be continued for some more time.

Successes of the campaign

Though enough needs to be achieved even now, the campaign can be termed moderately successful, as it has managed to get some of the demands accepted by the government, as it is evident from the fresh budget, which has been just out. The reason why all of the demands cannot be met can be attributed to the bad shape of the economy and hence there should be no questions about the effort made by Barnardos. Since its inception it has been using all possible strategies to get the most out of the policy makers and budget allocaters. Perhaps this is the reason why even in such hard times the government has agreed for free preschool place for children who have a year to start their primary school studies, which was one of the main objectives of the campaign. Since many main political parties used educational disadvantage in their manifestoes, their gesture reflects the success of the campaign in making this issue reach the conscience of the target audience.

Weaknesses of the campaign

It is very difficult to determine the weaknesses of a particular campaign as low achievement level can not just be attributed to the way of implementation of the campaign but also other variables in the social, economic and political spheres. In this present scenario all that was not achieved can be attributed to the economic crisis that the world is jointly facing. Yet more use of T.V. and radio, which is the strongest medium of generating information, might have given a better impact. But since this campaign is still ongoing these factors cannot be really termed as weaknesses rather areas on which more attention is required so that a better result gets delivered next year.

Aspects that I would have done differently

It is not easy to pinpoint aspects that could have been done differently in relation to such an esteemed and dedicated charity like Barnardos. Over the years they have become the experts of the advocacy campaigns and it would be very arrogant to make any comparative statements regarding any aspect of their work. Yet I think I would have tried to urge the teachers more, so that they come forward and get united on this issue. They are important stakeholders of this campaign and making them more involved in it would have reaped a better result. Since they had already shown a lot of concern on this issue just keeping the fire burning and getting the flames a little more wilder would have created the much required uproar on this issue, especially at the time when the process of budget allocation was in progress. Involving teachers of all levels which means not only those who teach in schools or to underprivileged children, but also those who teach in universities or in posh schools would have pressurised the government all the more as there is great power in unity and if this unity comes from intellectuals like teachers then it is very difficult to ignore it even by the toughest or the unconcerned.


 It might be delays in meeting all the objectives due to many unforeseen variables. However, the overall effectiveness of this advocacy campaign is not bad, as the organisation has got successful in attracting many supporters from all spheres of the society and also in getting some of its demands fulfilled. Lots of hope is still there. The work on this campaign must go on. My recommendation is that just like this campaign, the fight should continue till the very end for all the future campaigns of Barnardos.


Gibbons, N. 2008. Advocating With and On Behalf of Children – The Barnardos Experience. [online]. Available from:

Barnardos, 2009. Budget 2009 delivers promise for children and families but hardship in some measures: Press Release [online]. Available from: http://www.barnardos.ie/media_centre/our-latest-news/budget-2009-delivers-promise-for-children-and-families-but-hardship-in-some-measures.html

Barnardos, 2009. Educational disadvantage [online]. Available from: http://www.barnardos.ie/policies_and_campaigns/our-policy-priorities/educational-disadvantage.html

Barnardos, 2009. School Report 2006: End Educational Disadvantage [online]. Available from: http://www.barnardos.ie/policies_and_campaigns/our-campaigns/end-educational-disadvantage.html

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