Barely anybody defends Toby Young’s prejudiced comments, not even Toby Young, and certainly not me.
Young apologised unreservedly for his remarks, calling them “ill-judged or just plain wrong,” but now he’s been in the news because of the outrage at his appointment to the board of the Office for Students (OfS), outrage which forced him to resign.
Many in the media want you to believe Young is the nemesis of education and society. But don’t be swayed- he is far from that. Young set up the UK’s first free school, a pretty revolutionary move in terms of education. He needed to send his kids to school, but saw schools in his area as inadequate. Instead of going private, he had an idea: a free school controlled by a board of sponsors rather than the local authority. This was actually a Labour initiative, but the Tories backed it as well. It sounds perfect, right?
The teachers’ unions disagreed, and criticised Young when he opened the first free school. The unions slated free schools, not least because in them teachers do not have to have Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) as they must in state schools. In 2012, Christine Blower, the then general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, suggested that these teachers without QTS would “cause irreparable damage to children’s education”. Yet teachers at independent schools don’t need QTS either and independent schools usually outrank state schools in the results tables. If Young hadn’t set up free schools, I can’t help but wonder if the teachers’ unions and the media would have called for his sacking? I doubt it.
There can’t be double standards. If you called for Young’s sacking, then logically you must call for Corbyn’s over his IRA, Hamas, and Hezbollah comments. Yet this sets a dangerous precedent. It implies your past is inescapable, and this is especially worrying for, but not limited to, students. Universities should be places of learning where we can broaden our minds and float opinions. However, if everything we write or say will be held against us in the future, people will feel pressured into staying silent. The implication is young people shouldn’t experiment with their opinions. If you called for Young’s sacking you must also agree to curb students’ developing opinions, unless students want to face the wrath of what they’ve mentioned in the future. I doubt many would stand by that attitude. Young is a qualified educationalist, and it’s frightening a Twitter mob has forced his resignation.