truth about our schools

About the Author

Melissa Benn is a journalist and author, a campaigner for high-quality comprehensive education and a founder of the Local Schools Network.

Janet Downs is a retired secondary school teacher. She is now an education researcher and blogs regularly on the Local Schools Network.

How does a famous columnist even have the gall to suggest that ‘as a start in life ( going to a comprehensive) …is right up there with dying at the Somme’? Why do politicians and journalists endlessly repeat the mantra that local authorities ‘control’ schools? And whatever happened to the much publicised free school experiment in Sweden?

These are just some of the issues that we, at the Local Schools Network, have become used to dealing with, since we set up this site in the months after the 2010 election. For five years, we have tried to battle the many appalling stereotypes about comprehensive education, the endless bland offerings from the DfE press office, and most of the half baked policy experiments coming out of government.

Enough, we thought.

Time to gather all this work into one volume, and to provide an alternative view to the Official Version on modern education; not in any rhetorical way, but through careful examination of the evidence, and the sober presentation of alternative perspectives and policies.

The Truth About Our Schools – published today – takes 8 common myths (we could have found more) and carefully rebuts them using all the facts and arguments at our disposal. Keen eyed LSN readers will note that this is an updated and expanded version of our e-book first published earlier in the year, but never available in print form, which many people asked for.

The eight myths we tackle are as follows:

• Comprehensive education has failed
• Local authorities control and hold back schools
• Choice, competition and markets are the route to educational success
• Choice will improve education in England: the free school model.
• Academies raise standards
• Teachers don’t need qualifications
• Private schools have the magic DNA
• Progressive education lowers standards

Presenting the arguments in this way creates an appealingly simple structure that is, we hope, satisfying for the reader. Single chapters can be consulted or the entire text – a short, sharp read – digested in one go.

While the core of the book has been put together by myself and Janet Downs, this is really an LSN production; at the end, we have put together a compendium of articles, on related topics, from our four founders, myself, Francis Gilbert, Fiona Millar and Henry Stewart, and Janet, our most prolific contributor. There is an excellent foreword by Professor Peter Mortimore, former Director of the Institute of Education, and author of Education Under Siege.

Please buy the book, spread the word, get it stocked in all libraries and put on every student reading list.

At the very least, I suspect, this volume will stand as a significant record, in years to come, of exactly where government policy went wrong on education in England in the early twenty first century.

The Truth About Our Schools: Exploding the Myths, Exploring the Evidence, by Melissa Benn and Janet Downs, is published today by Routledge. It can be directly ordered from Amazon here