Melissa Benn is a writer, journalist and campaigner. She was educated at Holland Park comprehensive and the London School of Economics where she graduated with a First in history. Before becoming a full time writer, she worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties, the Open University, Women in Prison and the London magazine City Limits.
As a freelance writer, her essays and journalism have appeared in a wide range of publications, including The Independent,The Times, Public Finance, Marxism Today, the London Review of Books, Cosmopolitan and Public Finance. She is a regular contributor to The Guardian and New Statesman.
Melissa has published eight books, including two novels. Her first novel, Public Lives, published in 1995, was described by writer Margaret Forster as ‘remarkably sophisticated’ for a first piece of long fiction. One of Us, published in 2008, was widely praised and shortlisted for a British Book Award in 2008.
Her non-fiction works include Madonna and Child: Towards a New Politics of Motherhood (1998); Education and Democracy, co-edited with Clyde Chitty (2004) and A Comprehensive Future: Quality and Equality For All Our Children, a specially commissioned pamphlet for the pressure group Compass co-written with Fiona Millar (2006) which provoked widespread discussion.
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, Richard and Judy, the Sky Book Show and Sky news programme. She was one of several writers featured in a one hour special on the representation of politics in the arts and fiction on Radio Four presented by Mark Lawson. She has spoken at the Hay, Edinburgh, Bath and Cheltenham literary festivals, among many others.
In 2011 she published School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education which the Observer called ‘a tremendous book.’ In the months after publication, she travelled around the country discussing the book’s arguments with audiences ranging from the HMC (Independent School Heads) to community groups to the heads of the powerful burgeoning academy chains.
As an active campaigner for comprehensive education, Melissa is a founder member of the Local Schools Network, a Vice President of the Socialist Education Association and is current chair of Comprehensive Future, an all-party group committed to the phasing out of selection at 11 and the implementation of fair school admissions. She is also on the board of Forum, the academic journal promoting 3-19 comprehensive education. In 2012, she won the Fred and Anne Jarvis award for her tireless work in support of non-selective schooling.
In September 2013 she published What Should We Tell Our Daughters? The Pleasures and Pressures of Growing Up Female, an exploration of young women’s lives from the perspective of a feminist in mid-life and mother of teenagers which was shortlisted for a Politico’s Book of the Year in 2014. In the past few years, she has taken part in many discussions on young women’s lives, modern feminism and the relationship between the generations.
Her most recent book, The Truth About Our Schools: Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Evidence, was launched by Routledge in early 2016 . Over the last year she has taken part in numerous discussions about recent changes to the English school system, and the implications for democracy, including presentations to the Cambridge Primary Review Trust tenth anniversary conference and appearances at teachers and head teachers’ gatherings around the country. In January 2017 she was the key note speaker at the annual conference of the DECP, the educational psychologists’ wing of the British Psychological Society. In her role as Chair of Comprehensive Future she has been prominent in widespread opposition to the government’s plans to reinstate selective education.