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

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - 3-4 Month Fixed Contract - £30-£35k pro rata

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a 3-4 month pro rata fi...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000+

£16000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telesales Executive is requir...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map