In This Review

School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education
School Wars: The Battle for Britain's Education
By Melissa Benn
Verso, 2011, 256 pp

Like many other Western countries, the United Kingdom is experiencing a trend toward privatization and fragmentation in education. In this short book, which has sparked considerable debate in the United Kingdom, Benn documents the expansion of private and semi-private schools that benefit from tax-exempt status and subsidies yet are disproportionately populated by the children of the wealthy. These schools tend to exclude physically, mentally, socially, or emotionally challenged students, while receiving greater per capita resources. As in Sweden, the United States, and other countries, the spread of such schools has had the net effect of increasing social inequality and undermining overall national educational achievement. Benn contrasts this with the experience of countries that have maintained the most uniform and universal systems -- such as Canada, Finland, and South Korea -- and, as a result, continue to top global measurements of national educational performance. Benn makes the case for a recommitment to a well-funded, nearly universal system of “comprehensive” neighborhood schools. Yet it is difficult to imagine how such an option will attract sufficient political support when inequality continues to increase in most Western democracies, strengthening the powerful special interests arrayed against reform.