School Wars

School Wars:The Battle for Britain’s Education

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The story of the struggle for Britain’s schools, and a passionate call for education as a public good

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.


  • This is a tremendous book. It is a passionate polemic about the most important policy divide of the day ... It is powerful but also reasonably argued ... [and] marks her out as one of Britain’s foremost advocates of comprehensive education.

    Anthony SeldonObserver
  • 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.

    Phil BeadleIndependent
  • An exceptionally well-informed, cogent, and spirited account of the debates over secondary education in Britain.

    Stefan ColliniNation