Melissa Benn: Goldie and Toby's laugh-in

Stop going round setting up new schools. Support existing ones

Related Topics

Not long ago the intervention of a zany Hollywood actress in the debate about our schools would have been extraordinary. Sadly, the news that Goldie Hawn and opposition education spokesman Michael Gove are in talks about Hawn's charity setting up schools in the UK, based on Buddhist ideas about mindfulness, now feels almost inevitable – the latest lurch in an increasingly desperate scramble by politicians to offer a quick fix to our education system.

First we had the razzmatazz of the academy programme – semi-independent state schools, occasionally stamped with the bizarre religious or educational character of their rich backers. Yet results in these hugely expensive, heavily promoted and in many ways unaccountable schools have been mixed at best.

More recently, there has been a flurry of interest in parent-led plans, with the Tories promising to relax red tape around building regulations and school places. We're told that hundreds of parents want to set up schools, but so far most of the publicity has gone to flamboyant writer Toby Young, who is trying to open a new school in west London, having rejected a local comprehensive which had been highly praised by Ofsted.

Young and Hawn's unproven initiatives are cleverly marketed as ways to improve the life chances of poorer children. But will they? Existing budgets will be used to fund these glitzy new establishments, reducing the resources available to thousands of others. The evidence from Sweden is clear: new schools lead to greater social segregation, and higher standards only in schools where better-off pupils attend.

There is an alternative for both politicians and parents. As David Woods, the government's chief adviser on London schools, has said, many middle-class parents are writing off excellent comprehensives on their doorstep because of their own "innate and uninformed" prejudices.

I know this from personal experience. A few years ago, in the area where I live in north-west London, many families were reluctant to use the local comprehensive – although predictably only the middle classes seemed to find ways to ship out of the borough or the state system altogether. It became a vicious circle. Although few would say it, parents were nervous not of the school's leadership but of its pupils.

Eventually, a group of families took that all-important leap of faith; waves of siblings and friends followed. Rather than set up a rival school, dozens of parents have worked enormously hard to support the school through imaginative extra-curricular programmes. Results have gone up steadily; the school is now oversubscribed and has a robust confidence which directly benefits children from less advantaged backgrounds.

Sadly, most of the political class are now so busy chasing the next big idea or famous name that they have failed to grasp a very simple fact. Most parents want a good local school with a universal guarantee of high standards and a fair admissions system rather than the creation of ever more diverse layers within the state system that will always benefit knowing or powerful parents. They are are crying out for politicians to take control of education – not cede it to myriad wacky untested schemes and heavy-breathing Hollywood stars.

Melissa Benn's latest novel, One Of Us, is published by Vintage

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trust Accountant - Kent

NEGOTIABLE: Austen Lloyd: TRUST ACCOUNTANT - KENTIf you are a Chartered Accou...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: randstad education are curre...

Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Group: You must:- Speak English as a first lang...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Randstad Education Group: If you are a committed Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: There's a crackle in the Brum air

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Obama has admitted that his administration underestimated the threat posed by Isis  

Syrian air-strikes: Does the US have the foggiest idea who their enemy is?

Kim Sengupta
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style