Toby Young resigns from New Schools Network

Toby Young has resigned from the New Schools Network due to ongoing “media attention” about his continued role as director.

The charity, which is partly funded by the government to support free schools, announced this afternoon that the journalist and free school founder will be leaving his role as director.

On its website, the charity said Young had decided “that the media attention his continuing presence at the helm of NSN is attracting has become a distraction from the vital work”.

An interim director will be announced in due course.

It follows a turbulent period for Young, who founded the West London Free School seven years ago.

There was public uproar at his recent appointment to the board of the new universities regulator, the Office for Students, in the light of numerous offensive comments he had made on social media, as well as his views on some education issues.

These included 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 then emerged that Young had deleted tens of thousands of his tweets.

His commitment to inclusive education had also been 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 Department for Education initially defended the appointment, as did prime minister Theresa May and universities minister Jo Johnson, but they came increasingly under pressure to explain how he had been appointed to the role in the first place.

The commissioner for public appointments found “serious shortcomings” in the process that saw Young land the role.

Young later said he was stepping down from the job “to get on with the work I have been doing to promote and support the free schools movement.”

Eventually Sam Gyimah, an education minister, told MPs his department was “looking at the options for support around the New Schools Network”. The Guardian reported yesterday the DfE had tried to encourage other organisations apart from NSN to carry on the contract to support new free schools.

In the statement, Young said it had been “an honour” to serve as director of NSN, and said the charity deserved some of the credit for helping two thirds of the 691 new free schools open or approved to open.

“It has been a privilege to work with NSN’s dedicated employees, who are doing so much to raise educational standards in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country.”

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  1. In 2011, when NSN’s contract was put out to tender for the first time, the DfE stipulated that the successful candidate needed to have experience of supporting free school proposals. The only realistic candidate was NSN. Could this be a repetition of the same process? And would suspecting this put off other candidates?