top of page

Melissa Benn on our divided education system




Melissa Benn comes from a long line of outspoken campaigners and prominent Parliamentarians. She was educated at Holland Park comprehensive and the London School of Economics where she graduated with a First in History, the first woman in a generation to do so.

Melissa’s journalism has appeared in a wide range of publications, including the Independent, the Times, Public Finance, Marxism Today, London Review of Books, Cosmopolitan and the Financial Times. She is a regular contributor to the Guardian, the New Statesman, and Teach Secondary magazine, where she writes a regular column.

Melissa has published nine books, including two novels. In her writing on education, Melissa has consistently tried to tackle contemporary myths about state education and to set out the case for a more equal system. With Fiona Millar she co-authored 'A Comprehensive Future: Quality and Equality For All Our Children', an influential pamphlet that challenged the drift towards the marketisation of state education within the then New Labour government and made the case for strong, non-selective, community schools.

This was followed by School Wars: The Battle for Britain’s Education, described by the Observer as ‘a tremendous book. In it, Melissa sketched the history of, and struggles around, secondary education from the post-war period onward and offered a critique of the education policies of successive governments, in particular the Coalition government of 2010-2015. With Janet Downs, she co-authored, 'The Truth About Our Schools: Exposing the Myths, Exploring the Evidence', which tackled some increasingly prevalent and pernicious myths about state education. Caroline Lucas MP described it as a ‘hugely important book that should be required reading for every Education Secretary.’

In Life Lessons, Melissa set out the Case for a National Education Service, and this book was described by Guardian Education columnist Fiona Millar as ‘an eloquent and much needed blueprint for reform when radical ideas are in short supply.’

I find Melissa’s writing to be a uniquely refreshing contribution to the education debate. I recommend catching up on Melissa’s many excellent columns in the publications listed earlier. And her book School Wars, which remains incredibly relevant, 12 years after publication, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand why we have the weird, patchwork education system that we have.


The Rethinking Education podcast is hosted and produced by Dr James Mannion. You can contact him at, or via a social platform of your choosing:


bottom of page