Melissa Benn: Goldie and Toby's laugh-in

Stop going round setting up new schools. Support existing ones

Share
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

www.melissabenn.com

React Now

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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices