Blog post

School Wars: “an important watershed”, and the hidden costs of Free Schools

Kishani Widyaratna 9 September 2011

Melissa Benn's School Wars, a timely exploration of the struggle for Britain's education system, has received yet more positive reviews.

In the Independent, Phil Beadle heralded Benn's "lightness of touch" and deft irony. He concluded:

In terms of future education policy, Benn's book could well be an important watershed. It is a clear-sighted re-statement of why universal, comprehensive education is - obviously - the best option. It should, and hopefully will, be taken as a rallying call to the left: to reconnect with their principles, and replace populist pragmatism with the optimistic idealism through which an informed and egalitarian approach to education policy can at least try to deliver us a more equal society.

Nick Fletcher, for the Camden New Journal, commended Benn's forensic ability and defence of the comprehensive system.

What Melissa Benn's superb, evidence-based history of the educational battleground during the second half of the last century proves, is that today comprehensives are mainly Good or Outstanding (according to schools inspector OFSTED), are getting higher standards in national tests and exam results, and are delivering social mobility.

Benn tackled the issue of the hidden costs of Free Schools head-on in a piece for the Guardian today. In it she revealed the devastating costs the initiative is inflicting upon Local Authorities:

Like it or loathe it - and I loathe it - large sums are being ploughed into free schools; £130m has been laid out on capital costs already, and there is clearly more being spent that government won't disclose. It has been estimated that there is now one civil servant per 30 children working on making free schools a success ...

The new academies are being funded by top-slicing local authority budgets, handing disproportionately large sums of money to already advantaged schools. Meanwhile, many local schools are struggling to deal with the impact of budget cuts from every quarter. Last week it was predicted that there will soon be a terrifying £1bn black hole in local authority finances as a result of the government's school policies, which councils are warning might lead to higher local taxes.

Visit the Independent to read Phil Beadle's and the Camden New Journal to read Nick Fletcher's review in full. Visit the Guardian to read Benn's article in full.

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