I am a writer, journalist and campaigner on school issues. This website is a place for me to bring together my various speeches, articles and blogs. I also post on the Local Schools Network and write a monthly column in the Guardian education pages.
I grew up in inner London and have brought my own three children up in the same area. They all went to local state schools and I have been or still am a governor at all those schools ( chair of governors at two of them). So much of my writing now is on education issues.
But I started my professional life as a news reporter, first on the Mirror Group’s graduate training schemes, then at the Daily Express and, after I had my children as a freelance feature writer. In 1993 I co-authored with Glenys Kinnock “By Faith and Daring”, a book of interviews with prominent women for the 5th anniversary of Virago Press.
In 1995 I went to work for the then Leader of the Opposition Tony Blair and then went to work for the Blairs in Downing Street after the 1997 election, first running Cherie Blair’s office and between 2001 and 2003 as Director of Events and Visits at No 10. During that time I was involved in national campaigning and had a direct insight in to the workings of government and party policy making, which has been invaluable since.
I remain proud of what Labour achieved in government. I didn’t agree with all of our policies. But overall Labour had a good record – I saw the evidence of that in my own local community – and this coalition government is achieving next to nothing by comparison
After I left Downing Street In 2003 I became the chair of the National Family and Parenting Institute, a trustee of the Roundhouse and also chaired an investigation for Shelter on the impact on poor housing on families. I began writing, broadcasting, and campaigning on education and parenting issues. One of my first projects was a film for Channel 4 about school choice.
Since then I have made several programmes on the issue of parents and schools for Teachers TV and the BBC. I was chair of Comprehensive Future ,the campaign for fair admissions to secondary schools – between 2005 and 2012. I am still a member of the steering committee. In 2006 I co-authored a pamphlet with fellow campaigner Melissa Benn for the pressure group Compass called “A Comprehensive Future. Quality and Equality for all our children”
My own experience as a working mother, about which I wrote a book “The Secret World of the Working Mother.”in 2009, has given me a lasting interest in the issue of gender equality, work life balance and family policy.We need more women in leadership roles and that won’t happen unless we have affordable childcare and can change the culture at home and in the workplace so that men and women can share and fit their caring responsibilities, whether for children or elderly relatives, around work.
In 2010 I helped to co-found the Local Schools Network with three fellow London parents. I am a member of the Welsh Education Minister’s Ministerial Advisory Group and actively still actively involved in my own local schools. I have just become chair of the trustees of a new organisation , the National Youth Arts Trust, which aims to raise funds to support disadvantaged young people in pursuing education and careers in the arts.
Much of my writing and campaigning on education issues has its roots in my own experience as a a parent and governor at our children’s then failing primary school in the early 1990s. We joined together with a wide cross section of the local community to turn the school round, strong friendships were forged and I came to understand that you can improve and achieve excellent public services while keeping them inclusive, firmly rooted in the local community and accountable to the people they serve. What matters are good leaders, governance, resourcing and collaborative working; community and solidarity – the strong helping the weak – rather than market forces and the slow steady introduction of for profit providers who will cherry pick the patients who are easiest to treat and the children who are easiest to teach.
I am not sure where my writing and campaigning will take me next. I will continue to make the case against the current direction of travel in schools policy and also hope to have some influence on the shape of Labour policy for the next election by public speaking, debating wherever I can. And I plan to remain closely involved in the improvement of my own local schools.
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