Over the last eight months, I have been taking the arguments in my book School Wars around the country, talking to parents, teachers, heads in maintained schools: local authority leaders; private, grammar, academy and faith school heads and staff; and many students. I have learned an enormous amount from these discussions about the strengths and divides of our current system and the impact that Coalition policy is having on our schools.
Last week the New Statesman published my edited diary style account of some of these discussions. There is so much I had to miss out…never mind. This gives readers a flavour….…
‘Government education reforms will lead to a lack of accountability and greater inequality’, Melissa Benn will say at the forthcoming ‘School Wars’ debate.
The debate takes place in Islington on Thursday 9 February and is being organised by the National Education Trust, the leading education charity. It will be led by Melissa Benn, author of ‘School Wars’, with responses from Sally Coates, Principal of Burlington Danes Academy and Roy Blatchford, Founding Director of the National Education Trust.
The event will be chaired by Fiona Millar.
Melissa Benn commented:
‘Michael Gove has set a revolution in train, in the name of radical improvement of state education. But nothing is quite as it seems with the Coalition’s school reforms.
In the name of autonomy and freedom, the government has gathered to itself unprecedented powers. Local authorities are being drained of funds and key powers, only to be replaced by democratically unaccountable providers, including the powerful educational chains.
Grammar schools are set to expand even though the correlation between selection and inequality is now well proven.
My fear? A return to a version of the failed 1944 settlement, this time via the market not the state’.
Roy Blatchford, Founding Director of the National Education Trust, said:
The National Education Trust has for some time been a leading platform for critical debate about today’s key education issues, so we are delighted to be staging this timely event.
I look forward to hearing – and perhaps challenging – Melissa Benn’s version of ‘market versus state’.
Notes for Editors
The media are invited to attend School Wars at New North Community School and Children’s Centre, 32 Popham Road, London N1 8SJ on Thursday 9 February (1.00-4.00pm). Please use the contact details below to book a place.
The National Education Trust is an independent charitable foundation dedicated to
the promotion and sharing of excellent practice and innovation in education. More information can be found on our website: www.nationaleducationtrust.net
The crisis of the meritocracy: Britain’s transition to mass education since the Second World War
PETER MANDLER, 2020
Oxford: Oxford University Press
361pp, hardback, £25, ISBN 9780198840145
Cambridge historian Peter Mandler has a fundamentally optimistic story to tell about the growth of universal education in Britain over the last seventy years and one can sense his stubborn resistance to any more sceptical interpretation on almost every page of this dense and impressive history. Since the close of the ‘people’s war’ in 1945, Mandler argues, we have witnessed the rise of mass education, initially at secondary level, and more recently in higher education where participation rates currently nudge New Labour’s much vaunted promise of 50 per cent. Contrary to established narratives that have put this development down to economic growth or significant pieces of legislation, Mandler identifies the expansion of educational opportunity as the result of a constantly shifting interplay of demand and supply that has reinforced ‘the deepening compact between the individual citizen and the state which came with formal democracy and the idea of equal citizenship’. Education continues to be seen by the public as one of the ‘decencies’ of life’; hence the inexorable rise in demand for what Mandler often refers to as ‘more and better’.
In short, the people (sort of) did it themselves.
On the face of it, this is an attractive proposition, yet one that is oddly tricky to grapple with, given the mass of contradictory or partial information available to us concerning what the ‘people’ have wanted at any given historical moment or, indeed, who exactly the people are. Mandler deliberately employs ‘a promiscuous array of methods and sources’, sifting through realms of evidence from official publications, interviews, academic studies, pollsters’ findings and demographic surveys in an attempt to clarify the complex relationship between government policy, public demand and social change. This promiscuity encourages him to prosecute his subsidiary critique of the alleged tendency of academic disciplines to work in unhelpful silos. Economists and social scientists, he charges, have paid scant attention to educational expansion while educationists and political historians tend to ‘chop up long-term trends into short political segments’ with many on the left falling into a ‘declinist narrative’ in which the failures of a ‘divided’ Labour party feature heavily as a reason for a lack of genuine progress (an analysis Mandler anyway rejects). But we shall return to the problem of we whingeing progressives in a moment.…