She blames the media. And I think she’s right

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.

Richmond blues

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.

Toby Young helpfully clarifies ‘new school’ aims….

The media has been obsessed this week with what position Stephen Twigg, the new secretary of state for education, will take on free schools. While Twigg was probably unwise to give interviews on such a controversial policy within days of being appointed to the post, his latest, more considered, view on the matter seems largely sensible.

I would take issue with his sweeping claim that ‘parents know that the real difference to their child getting ahead is not what is painted on the sign outside the school, but what happens inside the classroom.’. Obviously, the issues of selection/admissions and funding are crucial to the success of a school and its pupils. But it was ever thus……

Meanwhile, in a fascinating exchange on the Local Schools Network concerning the example of the charter school/free school experiment in America, leading free school supporter and founder Toby Young, who had enjoyed taunting Twigg this week, came clean on the policy’s true objective: to allow schools to fail. It is only by letting schools open and close, Young claims, that we can truly learn what kind of innovation works.

Well, I can save Toby years of market based experimentation, with all the disappointment and failure it will bring to generations of students. We already know what makes schools successful. While the majority of the US’s charter schools do not improve on public (state) schools performance, those that do have millions of philanthropically sourced extra money poured into them. Fine, perhaps, if you are living and learning in the Harlem Children’s Zone where cradle to college investment is so impressive; too bad if you are at one of the rogue US charter schools where you will mainly learn about the perils of an unregulated, market based approach.

There’s nothing new in all this. Keith Joseph was singing the praises of bankruptcy in relation to the public services decades ago. For him too, human capital takes low priority in such a schema.

Still, we should be grateful to Toby for so baldly setting out the fundamental objectives of current education policy. The Coalition does not dare.

School Wars: round up of the reaction so far…………

  Check our some of the reviews/interviews and book related features of the past few weeks. 

Andy Beckett in the Guardian:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/sep/01/school-wars-melissa-benn-review

Anthony Seldon in the Observer; http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/sep/04/school-wars-education-benn-review

Phil Beadle in the Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/school-wars-the-battle-for-britains-education-by-melissa-benn-2351229.html

Francis Beckett in The New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/non-fiction/2011/09/education-benn-labour-children

Neil Fletcher in The Camden New Journal: http://www.camdennewjournal.com/reviews/books/2011/sep/books-review-school-wars-battle-britains-education-melissa-benn

Lucy Sherriff interview in Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/08/27/melissa-benn-free-schools-and-education_n_938872.html

Terry Wrigley in Socialist Review: http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=11793

Sadie Robinson interview in Socialist Worker: http://www.socialistworker.co.uk/art.php?id=26186

Samira Shackle in The New Statesman: http://www.newstatesman.com/education/2011/10/school-wilshaw-mossbourne

Compass website, comment piece: http://www.compassonline.org.uk/news/item.asp?n=13796

Book related pieces in The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/profile/melissabenn

Coming up: interviews and features in: Marianne ( French magazine), Epigram ( Bristol University student newspaper), The Richmond magazine, Red Pepper,  and Utdanning ( Norway’s chief educational journal)  and The Lady magazine.