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If you didn’t catch it the first time, you might be interested now?
School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education
The story of the struggle for Britain’s schools, and a passionate call for education as a public good.
School Wars tells the story of the struggle for Britain’s education system. Established during the 1960s and based on the progressive ideal of good schools for all, the comprehensive system has over the past decades come under sustained attack from successive governments.
From the poorest comprehensives to the most well-resourced independent schools, School Wars takes a forensic look at the inequalities of our current system, the damaging impact of spending cuts, the rise of “free schools” and the growth of the private sector in education. Melissa Benn explores, too, the dangerous example of US education reform, where privatization, punitive accountability and the rise of charter schools have intensified social, economic and ethnic divisions.
The policies of successive British governments have been muddled and confused, but one thing is clear: that the relentless application of market principles signals a fundamental shift from the ideal of quality education as a public good, to education as market-controlled commodity. Benn ends by outlining some key principles for restoring strong educational values within a fair, non-selective public education system.
And here are some of the reviews:
“In this polemic, Benn sets herself up as a one-woman commission of inquiry, analyzing the social, political, and financial case for comprehensive schooling in a climate of spending cuts and a culture of privatization.”
– The Times
“This is a tremendous book. It is a passionate polemic about the most important policy divide of the day … It is powerful but also reasonably argued … [and] marks her out as one of Britain’s foremost advocates of comprehensive education.”
– Anthony Seldon, Observer
“Benn’s book could well be an important watershed. It is a clear-sighted re-statement of why universal, comprehensive education is – obviously – the best option. It should, and hopefully will, be taken as a rallying call to the left.”
– Phil Beadle, Independent
“An exceptionally well-informed, cogent, and spirited account of the debates over secondary education in Britain.”
– Stefan Collini, Nation
“If you read just one book on education this year, then make sure it’s School Wars by Melissa Benn. Brilliantly researched and compellingly written.”
– Roy Blatchford, Director of the National Education Trust
For more reviews and discussion of the themes of the book, please go to Verso’s website.
Since my younger daughter, who is just 16, started A-level politics this autumn, every evening meal has been dominated by a spirited discussion on subjects as various as responsible capitalism (do I really believe in such a foolish, contradictory thing?) to the merits, or otherwise, of an unwritten constitution.
Unsurprising, then, that yesterday morning, over breakfast, we were intently discussing the issue of lowering the voting age, following the decision to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence. As Vernon Bogdanor, the constitutional expert, said on the Today programme this week, it may be an unsatisfying, rather ad hoc way to bring about such a major change, but it makes the introduction of votes to 16- and 17-year-olds throughout the UK far more likely.
Read the rest of the piece here.
To see previous pieces by Melissa Benn published in The Independent, click here.
Below a recent review of a remarkable book by a remarkable woman, that appeared in the Guardian:
If You Sit Very Still by Marian Partington
Some years ago, while making a Radio 4 series on forgiveness in private and public life, I interviewed an apple-cheeked woman of impeccable middle-class stock. Everyone who trooped through the studio had a gripping story of betrayal or violence to recount, yet, all these years later, it is Marian Partington’s authenticity and intensity that I most vividly recall.
If You Sit Very Still has taken a further decade….read on
Last month I attended a fascinating discussion about the Finnish school system by Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons, an account of how Finland created one of the most successful school systems in the world. In this brief extract from Pasi’s talk, he explains how, in order to create a high quality universal system, the Finns had, first, to abolish private and selective education, which created an unacceptable gap in achievement. This then prompted me to ask a question……… read on.
Over the past couple of weeks i Have been reading and listening to some of the new Happiness Gurus. Last weekend The Guardian gave away Happier, a slim, aggressively yellow book by Tal Ben-Shahar ; this morning, I watched a TEDX speech on line given by an American psychologist, Shawn Anchor, who really should be – is, already – a stand up comedian, on the same subject.
What strikes me, increasingly, is how much these happiness messages run directly counter to the values, both explicit and covert, that young people are taught to hold, particularly at this rather mean spirited point in our society, and particularly within schools. These are, that results matter above all else; only A stars really count: Oxbridge or a Russell Group university are the only places worth aiming for etc
In terms of paid work, the goals are similar. What is prized? Work in some highly visible occupation such as politics, law, media or banking ( yes, even now, although, personally, I have yet to understand what any of these milk-round graduates are actually doing in these glass palaces of post crash capitalism.) And these careers are only worth something if you climb to the top. ( Who salutes a back bench MP who has campaigned hard over many decades to create a fairer society?)
Leave aside the massive issue of inequality of access to these same so called goals; is Super Achievement worth aiming for at all?
Not according to the Happiness Gurus. Ben-Shahar urges us to throw off the Rat Race mentality while Shawn Anchor claims that concern for success actually blocks productivity. (An interesting footnote: only those who have succeeded in the Rat Race can repudiate it. So Shawn Anchor’s talk carefully emphasises his Harvard career while Ben-Shahar begins his book with a story about winning a top athletics tournament as a highly driven, and unhappy, sixteen year old.)
Still, there’s a lot of sense in what they say. It is hard to learn to relish the ordinary moments of life when culture rewards only those ‘mountain top moments‘ of an extraordinary goal achieved.
But what neither the Stressed Over Achievers nor the Laid Back Happy Ones seem to address is the question of meaning. Neither seem to ask: what does happiness or achievement mean if neither are grounded in a life, or actions, based on the things that really matter: strong, honest relationships: kindness ( ‘the ruling principle of nowhere’ as the writer Jan Morris once memorably observed) and deeply held moral and political values, even those these might well lead you far from the centres of power, status or money.
A final footnote: I have long noticed that while contemporary culture rewards those who seek glory and status, history tends to reverse the equation and honour those who advocate, and uphold, justice. So, incidentally, does some of our most substantive, moving and enduring literature: cf George Eliot or Theodore Dreiser.
As a new drama series called Pan Am – a mile high version of Mad Men by the sounds of it – prepares to hit our screens, a brilliant piece by Tanya Gold today on the appalling way in which discussion of womens lives, and feminism, is framed by the press and most broadcasters in this country. The situation is pretty similar in terms of other issues with any radical tinge whatsoever, including trades unionism, the left in general and alternative views of state education.
Below, an interview by Samantha Laurie in November’s RIchmond magazine. Please click Melissa layout to read.
Somehow, I think my appearance at the Richmond Literary Festival on November 25th is going to be my trickiest talk yet! A couple of weeks ago I did a long interview with Richmond magazine’s Samantha Laurie which is published this month here. The interview itself, and various follow up e-mail discussions, waas a veritable clash of competing ideas. From these, I learned a great deal more about the educational landscape of this area of London and the powerful interests behind its fragmented school solutions. Given Ms Laurie’s clear personal passions on education, quite different from my own, she treated me extremely fairly in the piece. For that I am very grateful.
…with an interesting website called New Left Direction. See what you think – a slightly different kind of interview.
What I have learned from the debate around my book so far……