Writer & Campaigner

Life Lessons: The Case for a National Education Service



It is time for a radical shake up of the purposes and practices of our education system. Life Lessons sets out a radical agenda for how we make education for all, and make it relevant to the demands of 21st century. This requires a deep-rooted, long-term vision of the role of learning in our society, one that is ready to take on the challenges of a new century and be part of a wider shift towards greater equality.

‘When we see what’s going wrong in education, we need people like Melissa Benn to give us signposts for what else is possible. As a lifelong campaigner for a fair and equitable education system, she shows she is the ideal person to map out a progressive agenda for education in the future.  this book is a timely appeal for a rational and democratic education service.’

Michael Rosen, author of Good Ideas.

‘Benn’s proposals are…. radical. She wants to “change the conversation” to one that overturns Britain’s willingness to accept as inevitable the strange mix of types of schools we have inherited — state-funded versus fee-funded private institutions, academically selective state and private versus all-ability comprehensives, linked to a religious faith and tradition versus not. And since the reforms of recent years, local authority-run versus self-governing academy or free school.’

Miranda Green, Financial Times.

‘Benn is….splendidly clear on fee-charging schools. Outright abolition, she rightly argues, would raise “an unproductive public outcry”. She would deprive them – and, equally important, their parent customers – of the tax breaks that derive from charitable status and, as Jeremy Corbyn proposed in 2017, slap VAT on the fees. Labour has been promising action on private education since 1964. Now is surely the time to deliver.’

Peter Wilby, the Guardian

‘Invaluable in providing education activists with the tools to move debates on Labour education policies forward… A very readable book, to be thoroughly recommended.’

Morning Star

Most Recent Post


 February 28, 2020

This piece was first published in Mslexia magazine in March 2017, but it is still relevant today. Click on the link below to read it. MSLEXIA MARCH 2017 copy

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Who She Is

Melissa Benn is a writer and campaigner. Her journalism has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Independent, The Independent on Sunday, The Times, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Record, Marxism Today, the London Review of Books, Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Public Finance and the New Statesman. She is currently a regular contributor to The Guardian and New Statesman.

Melissa has published eight books including two novels: Public Lives and One of Us. Her non-fiction works include Madonna and Child: Towards a New Politics of Motherhood; School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education and What Should We Tell Our Daughters? The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female.

Melissa is a regular speaker and broadcaster. She has written and presented several Radio Four programmes and has been a guest on the Today programme, Woman’s Hour, Saturday Live, A Good Read and the Sky Book Show.  She is an honorary patron of the Cambridge Literary Festival and has spoken at the Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham literary festivals, among many others, and numerous seminars and public meetings on education, feminism and general equality issues. 

Melissa is currently Chair of Comprehensive Future, a cross-party group campaigning for an end to selective education. She is on the Council of the New Visions Group, a founder member of the Local Schools Network and a member of the Oxford Women in the Humanities Advisory Board.

Other Recent Posts


 May 3, 2018

How do you define or promote something as elusive as happiness? Most of us might tick the box marked “cheerful” on Wednesday morning but could well consider ourselves crashingly miserable come Sunday afternoon. And suppose we can empirically establish contentment over a longish period, how do we unpick the underlying reasons for it? A happy relationship or a triple-lock pension? A course of mindfulness or a handful of supportive friends? Lynne Segal gives us her take on the matter straight off.

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From the archive: A Class Act

 January 5, 2018

He’s a good storyteller, Ambalavaner Sivanandan, and he tells a particularly good story about the Lost Missionary: a few years ago, a confused old man kept ringing the Institute of Race Relations, of which Sivanandan is the director, but nobody knew what he wanted. The caller muttered something about wanting to help people, to give aid to those in need, yet he was so obviously in need himself. Eventually out of pity, one of the staff invited him in.

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What They Say


‘(A highlight was) seeing Melissa Benn and David Aaronovitch, both highly skilled in the art of arguing, trade verbal blows at this year’s (absolutely packed) New Statesman debate.’

Tom Gatti, Culture editor, New Statesman.

Melissa Benn… spoke brilliantly … about the challenges women are facing today … Benn is a first-rate public speaker.’

The Daily Telegraph

‘Benn grapples eloquently with character, self, confidence, anger, the unquantifiable but elemental traits that makes us human…’

Financial Times on What Should We Tell Our Daughters?

‘One novel that stands out for me is Melissa Benn’s ‘One of Us,’ just out in England from Chatto & Windus. It’s an insider look at politics and power, but it’s a rich and heart-breaking novel in its own right. I can’t get it out of my mind.’

Sara Paretsky on One of Us.

‘This is a tremendous book … [a] passionate polemic about the most important policy divide of the day. The book’s publication marks out her out as one of Britain’s foremost advocates of comprehensive education.’

Anthony Seldon, writing in the Observer, on School Wars

‘Extraordinary………an emotional and political tour de force.’

Independent on Sunday on One of Us.

‘Insightful, deeply affecting.’

Time Out on One of Us. 

‘Never has it been more urgent to publicise the truth about what works and doesn’t work in our education system. ..This hugely important book should be required reading for each new Education Secretary.’

Caroline Lucas MP on The Truth About Our Schools.

‘Exceptional……….The language is stunning; controlled, yet very powerful and evocative, and the tale is told with incredible subtlety.’

Helena Kennedy on Public Lives.  

‘Subtle and insightful, a precise – and compassionate – glimpse into a time and a milieu…’

Anne Michaels, author of Fugitive Pieces, on Public Lives.