Caroline Benn Memorial Lectures

This resource contains an archive of all the Caroline Benn Memorial Lectures that have taken place since the inaugural talk given in 2001. Records are kept in pdf (transcript), audio and video form where available.  The annual lecture hosted by the SEA is named in honour of the late educationalist, socialist and campaigner for comprehensive education, Caroline Benn (1926-2000), who served as President of the SEA for many years.

  1. CBML 2001, delivered by Geoff Whitty. Discusses research on academically able children and the private schools assisted places scheme. Different groups of children tracked through the private and state sectors. Problems of interpreting the data are considered. Discussion covers: Erik Olwin Wright’s ‘real utopias’; standards agenda vs inclusion agenda; inclusion vs catchment areas; specialist schools; admissions policies; collaboration vs competition. Finally, the Geoff Whitty deals with curriculum enrichment and restoring creativity to teaching.
  2. CBML 2002, delivered by Clyde Chitty. Looking back over the development of the comprehensive system Professor Chitty reflects both on its achievements and on why it has never gained universal acceptance in the same way as the NHS. At the period it was being introduced all the emphasis was on getting rid of the unfair 11+ so that comprehensive schools could provide a grammar school education for all, without any discussion of whether that was what was needed.  He also believes it was a mistake by well-meaning reformers to justify their introduction as the route to achieving social equality and cohesion rather than concentrating on educational objectives. This underlay the failure to develop and publicise a comprehensive curriculum suitable for developing all the talents and abilities of all children. This vacuum  had left the door open for the authors of the Black Papers to call for diversity and choice of provision, the theoretical basis for the fragmentation of secondary education which was rapidly gathering pace at the time of his lecture.
  3. CBML 2003, delivered by Sally Tomlinson this file is currently being checked for a couple of problems.
  4. CBML 2004, delivered by Richard Pring. Although Professor Pring begins by looking at the positive improvements then being introduced such as the extension of education to 18 and  progress towards both social inclusion and training, his main themes are the need for a comprehensive system, not just individual schools, and  what should be the content and aims of education. Fragmentation with differing provision and resources based on the concept that some children need an academic curriculum and others a vocationally based one is failing both groups of children. All children need a broad based curriculum with access to the humanities and the arts together with preparation for citizenship. “The comprehensive ideal must be …. about making our children more  human, such an ideal cannot be captured in the language of pathways, academic or vocational”.
  5. CBML 2005, delivered by Melissa Benn & Fiona Millar. The main theme of this joint lecture was deep concern about the espousal of “choice and diversity” by the Labour Government, which they saw as threatening to undermine the provision of a good local school for every child based on comprehensive principles of fairness and inclusion. Allowing schools to control their own admissions would lead to social selection as well off parents struggled to achieve places in more popular schools. This would threaten the concept of a fair admissions policy and universal access to a broadly based curriculum.
  6. CBML 2006, delivered by Peter Montimore. This lecture compares the educational systems in the Nordic Countries with each other and with the British system. All four Nordic countries give a high priority to education and give considerable responsibility to teachers in the development of the curriculum. There is less testing and monitoring of schools than in England and intakes are mainly non-selective. Levels of achievement are high in general, especially in Finland.
  7. CBML 2007, delivered by Terry Wrigley. This lecture has two main themes. First, it explores and illustrates with personal histories why the struggle for comprehensive schools is a question of school culture and not simply structure. “It is undeniably a struggle about institutions, but it is also a struggle about ethics, political virtues and in the rich Germanic sense of the word, pedagogy”.
    In the second half of his lecture Professor Wrigley criticises the impact of current school improvement interventions and draws upon his own research in curriculum development to show a different way forward.
  8. CBML 2008, delivered by Bethan Marshall. Professor Marshall entitled her lecture “Testing, Testing, Testing” and made a powerful case about the negative effects of SATS and other testing regimes on the capacity of children to learn and understand what is being taught. Her particular concern is about how English teaching is being stultified by teaching to the test, but she showed how other subjects are also being narrowed down by testing.
  9. CBML 2009, delivered by Eric Robinson. Eric entitled his lecture “Rethinking what we mean by education”. He argued that education is much more than formal schooling, and offered a philosophical view of all the educational influences which develop human beings throughout life.  Although reflecting his experiences of a lifetime of active involvement in education, the lecture is of timeless interest  and needs to be read in full.
  10. CBML 2010, delivered by Barry Shearman. For ten years Barry Shearman had been Chair of the Select Parliamentary Committee when he gave this lecture and he spent part of it describing the work of the Committee and examining the role of politicians in the development of educational policy. The second part of his talk proved to be controversial because he gave strong support both to the changes brought about by the 1986/8 Baker Acts and to Tony Blair’s “Standards not Structures“ programmes.
  11. CBML 2011, delivered by Diane Reay. After recalling the fundamental characteristics of  comprehensive  educational provision as outlined by Tawney and Caroline Benn, Professor Reay  observed,  “we no longer have in the UK education that resembles, even in part, a comprehensive school system”. Gross inequality is perpetuated not only by the existence of the private sector but also by the different quantity and quality of resources devoted to educating children attending  different types of school within the state sector. She called for a return to first principles and exposure to a full range of educational and cultural experience for all children, regardless of the income of their parents.
  12. CBML 2012, delivered by Steven Twigg. Steven Twigg, then Shadow Minister of Education, went to a comprehensive school and declared himself a passionate advocate of a non selective system, but  argued that comprehensive schools need not be provided only by local authorities. He argued that sponsored academies could be equally effective, although local authorities had a role to play in commissioning and overseeing school improvement. He talked about the success of the London Challenge programme and his concerns about areas of underachievement. He concluded,  “What is needed is a relentless drive on school improvement which is focussed on clear leadership, early intervention and effective collaboration to ensure that no school is left behind.”  His talk was followed by a lively debate.
  13. CBML 2013, delivered by David Blunkett.  At the time of his lecture David Blunkett was in charge of the Labour Party’s review of the role of local authorities  in relation to the ‘middle tier’, which inevitably touched on the role of the Secretary of State, the nature of governance at local and academy chain level, and the future part which local government, either separately or in combination, might play. He outlined his approach but explained that he was still collecting evidence and listening to different views and so not yet ready to come to a conclusion, but he confirmed the importance he attached to local participation in education development, planning and monitoring. SEA speakers from the floor encouraged him to take a firm stance against the transfer by Gove of responsibility from local authorities to the Secretary of State. 
  14. CBML 2014, delivered by Selina Todd.

You can listen to Selina Todd’s Lecture

    15. CBML 2015 delivered by Susan Robertson entitled Long Division:
When Private Interests Into Public Education Simply Do Not Go!
The text of the lecture is here:

    17. CBML 2017 delivered by Rebecca Allen was entitled “Making Teaching a job worth doing (again). It addressed the many ways in which the system is distorting the role of the teacher and is imposing  a massively unreasonable workload. It contains both an analysis of the problem and ideas for addressing it. The full text is available at: Caroline Benn Lecture 2017 by Rebecca Allen

18. CBML 2018 delivered by Stephen Gorard. His theme was “Let’s Make Education Fairer – Disadvantage, School Intakes and Outcomes. The lecture was a masterclass in showing how a rigorous analysis of data can challenge the ill-informed assumptions of policy makers. The recording of the lecture can be found at    and Stephen’s slides showing the data he’s referring to are at Stephen Gorard’s slides

19. CBML 2020 delivered by Professor Ken Jones Goldsmiths College, University of London, which was held via Zoom amidst continuing coronavirus uncertainty. The title of this lecture was “The Possibility of Change” thought as a collective and democratic project. Please listen to an audio recording and watch the video below.

20. CBML 2021 delivered by Keri Facer, Professor of Education and Social Futures, Bristol University. Given that 2021 was the year of COP26, Keri’s lecture was aptly titled ‘Organising Hope: Schools in the era of Climate Change’.  The Lecture took place on Tuesday 23 November as a hybrid online: as both an in-person at the Mander Hall, Hamilton House (NEU HQ) and online via Zoom. Please watch the recording and read the full text of the lecture.


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