Melissa Benn

Comment is Free

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Who’s afraid of state schools?
guardian.co.uk, Friday December 19 2008

Figures just released by the Audit Commission which show a sharp increase in the number of applications to state schools from parents who previously would have sent their children to private schools. A third of London boroughs have reported a noticeable rise in applications, with a further 20% predicting the figures to climb higher next year as the recession bites.
(Read it here)

Economic uncertainty spreads to education
guardian.co.uk, Sunday October 12 2008
Coming at the end of a week of turmoil for private capital, the news that Amey plc, a major services consultancy and sponsor of the Unity city academy in Middlesbrough is in talks regarding the “dissolution” of its sponsorship lays bare some of the key problems with giving private companies a controlling stake in our public services.
(Read it here)

The truth about our schools
guardian.co.uk, Saturday October 4 2008
If David Cameron were really interested in healing so called “broken Britain”, he could start by telling the truth about our schools. He should ditch the stale cliches about “all must-have prizes” or “dumbing down” and the populist cracks at the education establishment, all of which made an appearance in the brief section about schools in his leader’s speech this week.
(Read it here)

Off-target
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday April 30 2008
I can’t have been the only parent who felt a wave of exhaustion come over them when I read today’s Guardian front page article on proposals to include a raft of social indicators in future Ofsted reports. In addition to the information already included in the often controversial league tables, schools may now be judged on 18 separate social factors including rates of …
(Read it here)

8 Responses to "Comment is Free"

Dear Mrs Benn,

I really loved your latest book and, being a french native speaker, I have been dreaming of translating it in French. I can’t boast of any experience in the field of literary translation, but would very much like to try, hoping that my fascination for the book would make up for my lack of professional skills.

Would you be so kind as to tell me whether a translation is already under way ?

Yours sincerely

Marie-Laure Layus

Hello Melissa,

I am with Cision, a Media Intelligence Provider and are offering a free listing for all UK based Journalists. We act as an intermediary between PR clients and Media contacts and maintain a Media Directory list with a short profile and contact information of all names listed with us.

Could you please let us know, if you would be interested to have your name listed as well.

Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Kind Regards,
Tanaya on behalf of Cision

Thank for your inspiring talk on Friday evening. I agree with you that comprehensives do get a rough ride and are generally misrepresented by the media. Thank you for signing the book and keep up the good work.
Fay and the girls

My daughter, an NQT, recently left a flagship academy (primary). We both feel very sorry for children left behind as they are subject to a rigid system of discipline which doesn’t seem to include any reward structure and basically focus on literacy and maths to the exclusion of all else. (Whatever actually appears on the timetable). The staff are very young and leave regularly as they don’t get support. It’s very disheartening for a first job and my daughter was told it was her fault that she coudln’t control the class properly. They survive and thrive because they know key politicians and get good results, but I would wonder if some of these children survive or continue to achieve in other schools at 11 plus. The turnover rate for staff is far higher than at other schools in the area or indeed anywhere else, yet this seems to go unquestionned.

Dear Melissa, I include a post I have also sent to Ann McElvoy following your discussion on R4 on Tuesday am. I almost crashed my car! Sorry for the rant.

I heard the discussion during “Woman’s Hour” on Tuesday morning regarding the creeping selection implicit in current government policy. I applaud Melissa Benn’s aim to highlight this issue and challenge the appalling arguments posited, on this occasion, by Ann McElvoy. I felt that Ms McElvoy did illustrate a real problem in education when she categorised Ms Benn’s specific points as “left wing” ramblings and actually classified Comprehensive Schooling as “a left wing system”. Ms McElvoy’s reduction of a discussion on education policy to cheap political point scoring has characterised media debates for as long as I can remember.

I also found Ms McElvoy’s difficulty with “equality” curious. Teachers I have worked with would recognise that a system based upon equality of opportunity has achievement and aspiration as contingent components not alternative approaches and her implication, that comprehensive schools “squeeze out” achievement and aspiration, is both offensive and ill-informed.

My anger and frustration with Ms McElvoy derives from her casual and cynical generalisations designed to denigrate any provision not within her political purview. Together with a failure to engage, and I suspect understand, the nature of the fallacies currently infecting student assessment, league tables and Ofsted.

What is so sad is that constant review and discussion should be an improving process, essential to keep teachers and schools on their toes. Instead what we have is the development of agents of government control, and decreasingly democratic control to boot. Alongside this is a wave of propagandist nonsense about grammar schools, Tory academies, freedoms of various sorts (that manage to restrict the freedoms of others) and this particular issue of school admissions that goes to the heart of manipulating and controlling education for political outcomes.

Yours sincerely

Paul Butler (Assistant Headteacher, whole career in various comprehensive schools)

PS The final straw was Ms McElvoy’s use of the phrase: “More diversity of supply”, sorry it just made me cringe.

Thanks for yesterday’s article about ‘creeping return of grammar schools.’ The pre-election ‘debate’ took place in 2007 when David Willetts wrote this article about improvment and selection in education. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1551714/David-Willetts-speech-on-grammar-schools.html .

In typical, rational and thoughtful Willetts style, he consulted the evidence and concluded: “We must break free from the belief that academic selection is any longer the way to transform the life chances of bright poor kids. This is a widespread belief but we just have to recognise that there is overwhelming evidence that such academic selection entrenches advantage, it does not spread it.”

For his pains, and despite Cameron’s support at the time, he was ‘demoted’ to shadow DIUS and then kept well away from schools policy!

Enid Worsley, Educational consultant in the learning and skills sector

I am a parent at QPCS and I have had creative financial ideas for keeping the school from becoming an Academy since I heard you speak tonight. It was set up as a community school, maybe it’s time to get some support from the community.If every child at QPCS gave £5 a year the school would be free from this uncertainty. Holland Park School had a donation of £millions from someone who wanted the community to benefit. I couldn’t help thinking the school was selling itself for less than 10% of its annual expenditure after decades of progress for just more uncertainty of an Academy rather than Brent. Wrong. Set amongst a very strong community in London, people who campaign for their libraries, walk to school and know their neighbors QPCS can do this.

Dear Ms. Benn,

In Chicago, the teachers’ union strike is in its fourth day and slowly the issues are being reported in the media. Now Chicagoans are bombarded by radio and tv ads, attacking teachers and urging them to quickly agree to a contract. The ads are paid for by PACs and advocacy groups like Democrats for Education Reform’s Education Reform Now. The groups are funded by hedge fund managers and our local billionaires. We have never before experienced this kind of onslaught of advertising by groups that have shown up in he past year from outside of Chicago.

From what I can tell so far, the sticking point is a draconian teacher evaluation methodology. This evaluation, imposed along with new, much more rigorous Common Core tests, will likely cause the firing of 6,000 Chicago teachers in the coming months, about 25% of all teachers. This will mean much larger class sizes.

We have learned that Murdoch’s company, Wireless Generation, has a received a contract to sell our district schools online testing for K-12, eventually. Tests will be delivered via Apple iPads. Some schools — we don’t know how many at this point — have already spent thousands procuring the tablets. some schools have been used as guinea pigs to test the tests. The students test scores will form a large percentage of the teacher evaluation, and there lies the opportunity for Wireless to both sell tests to every child and evaluations for every teacher.

This being an election year, the expectation is that in return for the President’s former chief of staff and our mayor opening up he third largest school district in the US to Murdoch, campaign contributions will pour in. (Fordham University’s Mark Naison was quoted by CNN this week.)

Would you have an interest in unearthing this story, or know any journalists who might? It is not getting the attention it deserves, and time is tight as we head into the end of the first week of strike.

Many thanks,
Maureen Cullnan

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Welcome to my website. I am a writer, novelist and campaigner. Follow the link below to my latest book. Join the conversation on Twitter. Or comment on this blog......

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