Melissa Benn

Melissa Benn attended Holland Park comprehensive and the London School of Economics where she graduated with a first in history.  She has a long record of campaigning for high quality comprehensive education and the benefits it brings to society as a whole.

A writer and campaigner, her journalism has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines and she has written five books, including two novels: Public Lives (1995) and One of Us (2008),  for which she was shortlisted for Waterstone’s New Writer of the Year award at the British Book Awards in 2009. Her non-fiction works include Madonna and Child: Towards a New Politics of Motherhood (1998); Education and Democracy, co-edited with Clyde Chitty (2004), a collection of essays on education; and A Comprehensive Future: Quality and Equality For All Our Children co-written with Fiona Millar (2006).  Some of her education journalism can be viewed on the Guardian website or on Melissa’s own site.  She is a regular speaker and broadcaster.

Melissa is an active and involved parent at Queen’s Park Community School (QPCS),  the local comprehensive that her daughters attend, one of the founders of an award-winning writer’s project at the school and a committed member of the parent teacher body.

In early September, Verso will publish her latest book, ‘School Wars: the Battle for Britain’s Education.’ During the early autumn she will be doing a number of meetings around the country, putting the argument for a different, fairer educational system, based on the idea as education as a public good not a private advantage.

Please contact Melissa, via the LSN website, if you would like to set up a meeting in your area.

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Comments, replies and queries

  1. siobhan dillon says:

    Dear Melissa
    I am writing to you in the hope you may have some good advice or an alternative view point on the issue that is very muchworrying me and my fellow parents of Kenmont Primary school in London NW10.

    The Kenmont is a small and delightful community state school with just 250 pupils.
    Last week, we (the parents) had a big shock, when we found there had been talks held in secret about the school becoming an academy and resulting in possibly moving premises.
    We discovered this after 2 staff governor resigned their posts. Questions were asked and help was requested from Jean Roberts, local head teacher and campaigner for fair education. A rumour then spread of the bad news, resulting in an urgent meeting being called by parents. The turn out was huge and there was a teacher or teacher’s assistant, from nearly every year, present at this meeting. The meeting was chaired (generously at the last minute ) by Jean.
    On discovering the news had leaked, the school immediately reacted by sending out a letter.
    The letter said that since the head teacher, Emma Laikin had left at the end of the summer 2010, that instead of advertising for a new head teacher, the school was in discussion with Hammersmith and Fulham council about making Kenmont an ‘Ark’ owned Academy.
    We have now been invited to an official meeting this Wednesday at the school to find out more.
    As you can imagine we are scared and angry. We would be devastated if our beautiful victorian school building was turned into flashy money making apartments. If our children had to leave their close community to attend school elsewhere. A strong body of parents believe this is the wrong and unfair way forward for any school, and other parents just dont understand the implications. There is a lack of honest information.
    I’d be so grateful if you had any advice on this matter. What we really want to do is gain some publicity for our campaign.
    Ideally we’d like to find a new head that would share our passion for our school and stay with us for a good period of time. Our problem, ironically, is also our blessing, that Kenmont Primary is a small, one take entry school. I think it’s so precious to have a village like school in the heart of London, yet for a head teacher it may be seen as a stepping stone in their career. The council are using this fact to say the school is in trouble and undesirable etc. We feel very hurt by this false interpretation, because there’s also been a 30% improvement in results in the last two years!
    We have a Dad amongst our ranks who works in documentary film, who is able to film the up coming meetings. However, what we will do with this footage I dont know. If there is any way you can suggest we move forward in publicising this pledge beyond just local press I’d be very happy to hear it.

    Many thanks for taking time to read this long letter!

    Kind Regards

    Siobhan Dillon

  2. Siobhan,

    I have sent an e-mail to your home e-mail with details on how to contact me.
    please get in touch,
    best,

    Melissa B.

  3. Alice says:

    Melissa -

    I haven’t got your email address or phone number and I wanted to keep you updated with the filming etc.

    My email is alicerandle@gmail.com

    Hope you had a lovely Christmas and New Year xx

  4. Sarah Dodds says:

    Siobhan
    I am in the process of starting up a group to challenge academy plans and merger of schools in my hometown. Are you in a position to give any tips / ideas. I am in contact with Anti-Acadamies Alliance and local unions, but would appreciate all the help I can get right now. Thanks.

  5. Steve Baker says:

    Melissa, I have been the Principal of of a Co-operative secondary school in inner city Plymouth for 16 years. Our 3 closest secondary schools are single sex grammar schols. The rest of Plymouth fits neatly into the hierarchical system predicated on perceptions of class you describe in very accurately in your latest book. We are combining a co-operative pedagogy with the values of the international alliance in our attempt to ‘close the gap’. Having achieved both ‘outstanding’ and ‘National Challenge status’ at the same time we have set about trying to secure school improvement without changing the ‘catchment ‘ or ‘intake’. It has been an interesting journey with some heroic teachers. We have reached a tipping point and starting to reap the benefits. Your book brought tears to my eyes. It captures many of the prejudices and injustices we have suffered for years. I once started a play (Brassed Off) with the voice over of your father talking aout Arthur Scargill saying “…and that man told the truth…”. Thankyou for telling the truth. The truth will of course be torn to shreds by such a slick well oiled machine. Our staff and Governors will just be thankful someone has had the courage to explode the myths so easily captured in sound bite politics. Our staff visited Finland and saw for themselves the cohesiveness of society, and the greater equality of the system that makes such a difference. They also saw some mediocre teaching! Should you wish to visit our school we would be delighted to show you our contribution to a co-operative future which you alluded to on one page as one of the potential ways forward. All the best. Steve

  6. Melissa,
    I am reading the recent Compass booklet Education for the Good Society. It seems that its authors want to have both “common schools” and “free schools”. They say that it is important to have a long memory and yet seem to have forgotten nearly everything that has happened since 1944 except to the extent that this is dealt with using sweeping statements about “statism” and the like. I am thinking of writing a review but I would like to discuss a couple of points. Have you read the booklet and would you have the time for a couple of emails on the issue?

  7. Dear Melissa,

    I work for the student-led Think Tank at King’s College, London, and we are holding a debate on secondary education in a few weeks. I would like to send you a proper invitation by email, if possible; could you please get in touch with the email address I’ve left here? I would be most grateful.

    Thank you for your time.

    Best wishes,
    Olivia.

  8. Dear Melissa

    We would like to invite you join our Think02 Education Debate on 12th December at our office in Clerkenwell. I would like to send you more details and would be most grateful if you could provide a contact email address. Many thanks. Helen Ramsden hramsden@orms.co.uk

  9. Mark Power Smith says:

    Dear Melissa,

    I am an events officer at the University College London Debating Society. We are holding a debate on 14th January about the ethics of private education. Please could you send me your email address so I can invite you to speak at the event? In the past we have had such distinguished guests as Bonnie Greer and Toby Young.

    Best,
    Mark

  10. Dear Melissa, I would be really grateful for any help you can give in promoting the e-petition calling on Parliament to hold Michael Gove to account:
    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51830
    It launched on 26th June and so far has 932 signatures – it states that the public have lost confidence in the leadership of education and Parliament should examine the full costs of all the changes. Having attended another meeting today about pay and conditions I believe he is taking the system apart piece by piece and I am just keen to do something to help raise awareness.
    If you are able to tweet or blog about the petition that would be amazing. It is on twitter, my account name is ClaireConleyHarper@milliethemini
    If you have any other advice about how I might promote the petition, I would really appreciate it.
    Kind regards, Claire

  11. Hi Melissa

    I’ve lost your email address so am writing here. I am involved in the launch of a new pressure group within the Labour Party entitled Labour Women in Education. We want to campaign as women because we feel that currently there are very few women feeding into Labour Education policy. Our initial position is as follows:

    We are a group of women in the Labour Party who wish to make our voices heard about our commitment to education as a public good and as a means of social progress – at a time when we are witnessing the destruction of the national system of education as we know it. As women, we share many of the political commitments and demands of male Labour activists, yet we fear that the voice of women is absent from current educational debates, both within and outside the Labour Party

    We are intending to have a launch on Saturday 26 October somewhere in central London and would really appreciate it if you could be there. I know you are busy but we hope this is sufficient notice for you.

    Hope to hear back from you on this asap.

    gaby

  12. I am writing to invite you to an exciting seminar I am convening at London Metropolitan University to take place on Tuesday 1st October from 4-6.30pm. The seminar is the first in a series which aims to bring together various stakeholders to debate contemporary issues in education.

    This first seminar considers the growing proliferation of academies in our schooling system and the implications of this trend for school effectiveness and social justice. The event is intended to generate dialogue between various bodies including researchers, school leaders/teachers, sector organisations, campaigning groups, and parents, amongst others. Professor Becky Francis (Kings College) and Professor Merryn Hutchings (Emeritus, London Metropolitan University) will present findings from current research into various aspects of the academies agenda as it plays out in practice. The papers would invite brief responses from a panel of stakeholders. The floor would then be opened up to offer an inclusive and no-doubt wide ranging debate.

    It would be fantastic if you, or a colleague from The Local Schools Network, could form part of the panel. Please let me know as soon as you are able to whether this invitation is of interest. In the meantime I would be happy to answer any questions you might have about the event.

    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Regards
    Jayne

    Professor Jayne Osgood
    Institute for Policy Studies in Education
    London Metropolitan University
    Direct line: 02071334020

  13. Dear Melissa

    I am writing to inform you about a new organization that has been formed around the premise that community engagement changes schools for the better and that schools and communities working together can radically transform the futures of young people. We would like to invite you to a special event to launch Schools of Tomorrow and our first publication, entitled
    Re-defining Outstanding – Schools of Tomorrow.
    It is on Thursday 24 October
    at RSA House
    8 John Adam Street
    London

    The event launches a new framework for understanding what an outstanding schools really needs to be in the 21st century. The morning includes a practical workshop to help you think through what this might mean in your context.
    You can attend either as a whole day participant (10am – 4pm) or for a half-day (either 10am – 1pm or 1pm – 4pm). All options include a light buffet lunch.

    Contributors:
    • Professor John West Burnham
    • Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive, RSA
    • Ian Wigston, Bright Field Consulting
    • Brian Lightman, General Secretary, ASCL
    Only a few places remain. If you would to join us for either all or part of this, or receive a full programme first to help you decide, email us back on info@thebeauchampgroup.org uk.
    Bookings must be completed no later than than October 7.
    You can find out more about Schools of Tomorrow at http://www.schoolsoftomorrow.org. I hope you will find what we are doing interesting and can find the time to come along for at least the afternoon of 24 October.
    Best wishes
    Andrew Hobbs

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