Review by Sophie Scott

21 Jun 2015, 19:00

Toby Young: Author and co-founder of several free schools

1. What did you like about school?

I went to more than half-a-dozen between the ages of 4 and 19. I liked my friends and the good teachers.

2. What did you dislike?

The institutional smell. The bullies and the bad teachers, often quite similar types. I didn’t care for sport and found observing the rules quite hard, particularly concerning uniform and appearance – I once got sent home for turning up with a green streak in my hair.

3. What seems strangest to you about school when you look back?

The fact that so many of the teachers, particularly the senior leaders, were in hock to bad theory. I was educated in the state sector when progressive ideology was at its peak. How could so many people ignore the evidence right in front of their eyes? In time, it will become an interesting psychological case study, like Tulip Fever.

4. Who was your favourite teacher?

Mr Rice, my year 6 teacher. He put a star chart up at the front of the class and every time you did a good piece of work you got a star next to your name. The three pupils with the most stars at the end of the year got a prize. I’d never experienced anything like that before. Suddenly, I was motivated! I ended up coming third and my prize was a biography of Napoleon. I think he must have seen something in me.

5. If you could go back to school and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Actually, come to think of it, that would still be a good piece of advice for me today.

6. Would you prefer to be a school child then or now? Why?

Now. Teachers are so much more engaging. I look at the teachers my daughter has at the West London Free School and I’m envious. Back then, a good lesson was like watching a public information film. Today, it’s like a Hollywood blockbuster.

7. What is the biggest problem in education today?

A shortage of senior leaders.

8. What is the solution?

Increase the professional status of teachers so it’s at least equal to a lawyer or an accountant. A good start would be a three-year teacher training programme with the emphasis on mastering a particular subject. I wouldn’t ban schools from employing teachers that didn’t have this credential, but I hope they’d be paid less.

9. What would your ideal school of the future look like?

A non-selective Hogwarts – that is, if it continued to discriminate against Muggles in its admissions arrangements it would be reprimanded by the Office of the Schools Adjudicator.

Toby Young will be a speaker at the Sunday Times Education Festival on June 18 and 19


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