School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education
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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.
tried to explain the social context of the school to the Labour leader, including the significant home problems of the children, and the fact that his school was used as a dumping-ground locally for children excluded from other schools. There were many ways that a Labour politician might have interpreted this brief encounter, and the information gleaned from it. But for Blair it merely fortified his resolve that he personally would never send his child to ‘a school like this’—the clear
Hackney, Walsall and Bradford, whose functions and responsibilities in relation to schools were taken over by private companies or learning trusts, although not always with any greater success.6 Claims by the CBI among others that outsourced authorities outperformed the public sector have proved, on examination, to be flawed.7 Little attention is paid to, let alone praise heaped on, the achievements of highly successful authorities from Hampshire to Tower Hamlets, which have developed and
to ‘embrace new freedoms’, and often unwilling or ‘less keen’ to lead extra-curricular activities at the weekend. But according to John Bangs, visiting professor at London University’s Institute of Education: ‘There is a nostalgia for a magic past, like in The Dead Poets’ Society or The History Boys, when teachers were free to go off-piste, but those sort of teachers were the exceptions to prove the rule and there was great inequality of teaching. We now have a system where standards for most are
ex-minister Lena Sommestad in May 2011, the spread of profit-making free schools changed the free school scene from a ‘few nice … schools such as Montessori schools’ into one dominated by ‘venture capital companies [which] have made quite big profits, which they don’t reinvest back into the school or even spend in Sweden—they put the money offshore, into tax havens.’ She also said the project had attracted some ‘dubious people’. Some companies had promised to deliver vocational training to their
rule—to an elite university: the classic grammar-school narrative that still obsesses our nation. Gove liked to speculate in public about what would have happened to him if he had been obliged to attend some poorly performing local school. If a general alliance between entrenched privilege and aggressive, yet ultimately deferential, aspiration has powered so much of recent British education policy, the confident, gilded Cameron and the restless, brainy Gove perfectly exemplified the mix in human