Toby Young quits Office for Students to ‘get on’ with free schools work

Toby Young, the journalist and free schools advocate, has resigned from his new role on the board of the new universities regulator, following a backlash over comments made in his past.

Young announced this morning that he has left the board of the Office for Students, claiming the reaction to his appointment had become a “distraction” to the regulator’s work.

He will now focus on his work as the director of the New Schools Network, the charity set up to help open free schools. Young, the founder of the West London Free School, was appointed to lead the NSN last January, having been a supporter of the free schools programme since its inception.

“Education is my passion and I want now to be able to get on with the work I have been doing to promote and support the free schools movement,” he wrote in the Spectator today.

“These schools have already done a huge amount to raise standards in some of England’s most deprived areas and the next challenge is to extend those benefits to every area of educational underperformance.”

Although some of the criticism centred on Young’s perceived lack of credentials for the OfS role, the government also came under pressure to fire him over numerous offensive comments he has made on social media, and for his views on some education issues.

These include multiple tweets about the size of women’s breasts, and one in which he refers to a gay celebrity as “queer as a coot”. It also emerged that Young had deleted tens of thousands of his tweets.

His commitment to inclusive education was also questioned, after comments he made in a 2012 article for The Spectator appeared to attack the use of wheelchair ramps in schools and mock the work of special educational needs departments. Young has also previously written in favour of using “progressive eugenics” to improve intelligence.

The National Education Union was among the organisations that called for Young to go, claiming his appointment undermined the government’s efforts to tackle sexism in schools.

Speaking on the Today Programme this morning, Robert Halfon, the chair of the parliamentary education committee, said Young had “done the honourable thing” in resigning.

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  1. Toby Young is as unsuitable to be involved in schools as he was to be appointed to the universities role. It’s about time he was asked to step down from the New Schools Network, which although technically a charity is to all intents and purposes a government agency which is wholly funded by a DfE contract and whose only role is to promote government policy around free schools. It really is high time this pseudo charity had its charitable status removed.

    • Mark Watson

      You seem to fundamentally misunderstand what a charity is, and the difference between the terms ‘public body’ and ‘charity’.
      As NSN is funded by the DfE it is a public body.
      That is entirely separate to the question of whether it should be a charity, which is dealt with by legislation. If NSN was established for exclusively charitable purposes (such as the advancement of education) and is not-for-profit and for the public benefit then it is eligible to apply for charitable status.
      The Charity Commission is the body that decided that NSN met the relevant tests and the Commission is independent, reporting directly to Parliament.
      You might not like how they advance education, but that has nothing to do with whether or not they should be a charity.
      It should also be noted that Toby Young is an employee of New Schools Network and is neither a legal director or a charitable trustee.

      • My point is that it is not exclusively for charitable purposes, its purposes are political and as such I do not agree that it should be a charity. However that’s an argument for another day.

        Whilst Young is not a trustee he advertises himself as the ‘Director’ of the charity. Regardless of his legal status I do not consider his beviour makes him suitable for such a role in a publicly funded body associated with the education of young people. I think he should be removed from this role to show that higher standards of behaviour are expected for those in public office. He sets an appalling example for others.

        He has only regressed so far in the world of education, in my view, due to having influential friends in government. What kind of message does that send to our young people? You can succeed regardless of poor behaviour or merit as long as you have the right connections? There must be thousands of other educationalists with operational moral compasses better suited for this role.

        • sarah – you’re right about the message Young sends to young people. It was a serious error of judgement on his part to think he could continue making leering remarks about women’s breasts or describing himself as a ‘swinging dick’ once he became a high-profile founder of a school. Any head tweeting the comments he did after taking office would have been sacked. And it’s unlikely that any candidate with such a history of obnoxious remarks would have been appointed in the first place.

  2. ‘But some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong – and I unreservedly apologise,’ Young writes in his Spectator article explaining why he resigned from the OfS.
    But that wasn’t true. His tweets about MPs breasts, his comments about wheel-chair ramps and his article about ‘genetically engineered intelligence’ (described as ‘dark and dangerous’ yesterday in the Commons by Robert Halfon, chair of the education select committee) appeared after Young opened the West London Free School.

    • Mark Watson

      “some of the things I said before I got involved in education … were either ill-judged or wrong”
      On what basis have you changed the meaning of his quote to “everything I said that has caused offence was said before I got involved in education” ?
      I’m sorry, but what he has said is entirely 100% truthful. Some of the things he said before he got involved in education were ill-judged and wrong. Presumably you agree with that (as I think would anyone and everyone).
      If he made offensive tweets after he got involved with education then they’re not covered by this apology. Whether or not they should be is another discussion, but it is not correct to say “that wasn’t true”.

  3. Mark Watson

    Just in case anyone thinks I’m defending Toby Young, or even worse some of the opinions he’s voiced in the past … I’m not.
    I disagree with a lot of what he’s said, and personally I didn’t think he was an ideal pick for the OfS Board.
    The problem is that Toby Young is a bit like Michael Gove, in that the minute their names are brought into a discussion people seem to lose all perspective and ability to think rationally and retreat to a “must bash Young and everything he stands for” mentality. That’s not helpful.

    • Mark – just in case you think I ‘lose all perspective and ability to think rationally’ in order to attack ‘Young and everything he stands for’, I defended Young against Teach First’s censorship
      In a separate LSN article about Gove’s defence of Young I wrote:
      ‘Laura McInerney, former editor of Schools Week, tweeted that Young ‘actually does a lot of unrecognised voluntary work in HE for Fulbright’ and was qualified for the job.’

    • Agreed. But some individuals are just so obnoxious on a personal level that it overshadows what other merits, if any, they might have. In this case though we are talking about objectionable behaviour and publicly promoted opinions which are so serious they must preclude him from this sort of appointment. As others have said, he clearly has no insight if he thought himself suitable from the get go!

      • Mark Watson

        John McDonnell called a fellow MP “a stain on humanity” and recounted comments about her being lynched. A lot of people think that is highly objectionable behaviour that should preclude him from any public office.
        Plus all of those comments were made when he was an elected MP.
        As objectionable as a lot of Toby Young’s comments were they were made when he was a journalist and someone who’s continuing career involved being noticed and in the limelight, as well as being at a time when he didn’t know as much about the education sector as he does now.
        Does that excuse the comments? No.
        But given the world of social media that we now live in, we’re going to get to a sorry state if people are prevented from taking part in public life because of something they tweeted as a drunken teenager or a life-ignorant twenty-year long.
        One of the problems I believe we have in today’s society is shutting down people we don’t agree with. Balancing free speech with not wanting to offend people is a difficult line to tread, but just because you find someone’s views obnoxious does not mean that they should not be aired (which then gives you an opportunity to debunk them). See a previous SchoolsWeek piece which looked at this in relation to Katie Hopkins –
        All of us are guilty of attacking someone we don’t like with comments they made previously. I’m just glad I don’t live in the public eye, and didn’t grow up in a time when the opinions I had earlier in my life could be brought up and thrown in my face.
        This has gone off on a bit of a tangent I admit. I suppose in summary I don’t particularly agree with John McDonnell or Toby Young, but I think both of them have voices that should be heard in the current debate.

        • This was a topic about Toby Young so deflecting it by referring to others isn’t particularly helpful. Young’ s comments were not the spouting of a teenager but those of a forty something year old man. He is entitled to his opinions but those he has expressed are so objectionable I consider it makes him unsuitable for any role in education. He must surely now step down from New Schools Network.

        • Mark Watson

          I’m not deflecting it, I’m pointing out that your objections are really to Toby Young the person and what he stands for.
          You consider him unsuitable for any role in education. Other people clearly don’t. Why should your opinion carry any more weight?
          I’m sorry you seem unwilling to discuss the bigger picture. Just because this started out as a story on Toby Young doesn’t mean we have to limit ourselves to that topic. It’s called debate.

          • I’m happy for anyone to write or say what they want as long as it doesn’t break the law. But this works both ways – anyone has the right to oppose what the person has said and argue against it. If the comments (from either side) reveal traits of character which might make them unsuitable for a particular job (eg someone tweeting derogatory remarks about religious believers applied for a job in a faith school; or someone leering about women’s bodies in a blog then wishing to work with young girls) then they can’t complain if people object to their employment in those jobs.
            If Young had been a school head instead of a trustee or a trust member, and if he’d continued tweeting in the same way as he did before becoming a head, then he would have been sacked. But an unfortunate aspect of the academy system is that academy members appoint the trustees, so if any trustee thinks a member should go because s/he has behaved in an unprofessional manner then the member could get rid of the trustee by dismissing them.

          • Mark Watson

            Like so many comments, only half right.
            Members (in the plural) can dismiss Trustees but only if a majority of them agree to do so. If Toby Young alone has an issue with a Trustee he has no power to dismiss them on his own.
            If the Members did decide to dismiss a Trustee, they could be reappointed by the other Trustees as a Co-opted Trustee.
            Alternatively, if the other Members want to get rid of Toby Young they can.
            So yes, Members do have significant power and influence, but they are not untouchable.