Toby Young is a man who has always played the game of life at the lowest difficulty setting there is, but is quite convinced that it’s purely a matter of skill that won him all his high scores.
At my high school, between 14 and 16, timetabling was everything. No one was allowed to do more than two sciences or more than one language: everyone had to do English and Maths: I couldn’t do History and Latin, because the timetables clashed: I chose Chemistry and Biology and so couldn’t do Physics: out of several unpromising options I took Drama, which was offered as an O-Level, and if nothing else let me discover I had an extraordinary capacity for memorisation and taught me the basics of public speaking: but thanks to the rigorous timetabling, I had to do a CSE in the seventh slot on the timetable sheet. (My mum urged me to do secretarial studies or child care, both of which she felt would be USEFUL, and I ended up doing art, which probably wasn’t but I had much more fun.)
Only three years later, I discovered when trying to find out what my grade had been, that CSE grades didn’t matter to anyone except the student and their parents. Nobody could tell me: I don’t know if any record was kept outside the school.
My mum was deeply angry at the affront to her daughter’s intelligence that I had to do a CSE for part of the week. (This was how I came to understand that CSE was the “not bright enough” option.)
My school sent the kids doing unpromising subjects like Drama and Art to a school that had been condemned as unfit for use fifteen years earlier. For most of the school week I studied in the new school, but three or four afternoons a week I’d head down to the CSE school and do art and drama: art peacefully in large dim rooms with high ceilings, surrounded by kids who were mostly not in my other classes, and who, like me, had no particular talent for drawing but enjoyed making things.
The Hon. Toby Young‘s latest Spectator column is unsurprisingly-supportive of Michael Gove‘s vague plans to abolish GCSEs and go back to O-levels and CSEs. He describes the caveats of people who have actually studied how children learn sarcastically as:
They acknowledged that some children would benefit from doing O-levels rather than GCSEs. But such gains would be more than offset by the harm inflicted on those children forced to do CSEs. Telling a child of 14 that he or she isn’t bright enough to do O-levels would be an irreparable blow to their self-esteem. Much better to have a unitary system in which all children do the same exams, even if that means they have to be quite easy in order to be fully “inclusive”.
Toby Young says
There are so many reasons to embrace these proposal it’s hard to know where to start. For one thing, it’s already possible for children to take the equivalent of O-levels. They’re called IGCSEs. Problem is, with a few exceptions, you can only do them at fee-paying schools. It’s one of the reasons private schools are so heavily over-represented at Russell Group universities. The difference between the two-tier system we have now and the one Gove is proposing to replace it with is that, in the new system, children from all walks of life will be able to take the more rigorous exams not just those with rich parents.
You don’t get to go to Eton unless you have rich parents, and statistically if you want to become Prime Minister someday, Eton is the most likely school to take you there. Correlation is not causation.
I passed my teens under an Old Etonian cabal, presided over by Harold Macmillan: 50-plus years later, I live again under an Old Etonian clique. Before he was elected, I asked at a local hustings my now MP, Old Etonian Zac Goldsmith, how it came about that, in Tory leadership terms, we were back in the 1950s. All the Old Etonians likely to be in a Conservative government were, he assured me, absolutely the best people among our 60 million fellow citizens to occupy those commanding heights. (Robert Chesshyre: In 1987 I returned to a country beset by class and inequality. And it still is)
Toby Young proudly brags that he failed his O-Levels and did a stint of workfare and still got into Oxford and became the man he is today, and therefore anyone else could do the same if they worked as hard as he did: he always forgets to mention that his father was Baron Young of Dartington.
But the thing that really annoys me is this idea that children who end up doing CSEs will never recover from the humiliation. Are British schoolchildren really so fragile that the “stigma” of not doing O-levels will cause permanent damage? The sages assembled round the table on Newsnight were all nodding their heads in agreement on this point – it was so obvious it didn’t require any evidence to back it up.
What the son of Baron Young of Dartington never noticed (or never cared) is that if you leave school with only CSEs, with grades that don’t matter to anyone but yourself and your parents, there are jobs and opportunities that will be permanently closed. But his parents could afford to send him to a kibbutz in Israel for a working holiday and a bit of re-education, and enables him now to sneer at school children today who get eight A*s in their GCSEs as clearly far inferior to him back in the day – had he not had that expensive re-education stint in a kibbutz, Toby Young sneers, “I would have continued coasting along, gone straight into the Sixth Form and ended up at Oxford Poly.”
So far, so run of the mill. Toby Young defends Michael Gove and thinks a Tory policy is just perfect: what else would he say?
Well, there is this one paragraph. To Toby Young, it evidently sounded terribly witty. He was getting very cross on Twitter defending it and accusing “lefties” of being humourless.
Inclusive. It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that have survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days. That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. If Gove is serious about wanting to bring back O-levels the government will have to repeal the Equality Act because any exam that isn’t “accessible” to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be “elitist” and therefore forbidden by Harman’s Law.
It’s quite a tirade, isn’t it? The kind of “wit” that reveals a great deal about what a man like Toby Young thinks is funny.
The idea that being inclusive is “ghastly”. Proper schools exclude. They don’t teach everyone. They’re not “politically correct”: their libraries do not include Alice Walker, who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple; I am pretty sure Toby Young is thinking with horrid glee of Huckleberry Finn, certainly one of the great American novels, but one with the capacity to be deeply hurtful. (It’s interesting, while we’re in the field of “Politically correct”, why Enid Blyton agreed to change the gollywogs in her stories into teddy-bears: she said the last thing she wanted was for her stories ever to cause a child pain. Toby Young in the same situation would presumably argue that the pain would just toughen them up.)
That means wheelchair ramps
Ghastly, yes. Imagine if kids who can’t walk could go to school just like anyone else. How would Toby Young feel then?
Update, 2nd July: Toby Young announced he plans to open two more free schools in London, and for his secondary school, he’s having Palingswick House (“a Victorian building that had been earmarked for demolition by Hammersmith and Fulham Council“) refurbished and an extension added, by architecture firm TP Bennett. Plans should be submitted to the council at the end of this month. Toby Young bragged his school will be less expensive than schools built by Labour: “It’s not a question of whether we need a new secondary school but how we can set one up in the most inexpensive way.” Chris Wieszczycki, a TP Bennet partner said: “The budget is tight and a fraction of what is normally spent. It’s light touch refurbishment and the extension at the back.”
a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy
Ghastly, yes. Imagine if children with dyslexia, instead of being given picture books to look at and told they were stupid, were actually helped to learn to their full capacity? What a waste that would be, in Toby Young’s view of things. Imagine if a child whose carer was inducing symptoms of illnesses in the child, was actually being helped at school, and not just abandoned to fail. What a terrible waste of educational resources that would be, helping children whose parents had a mental illness to be able to do well at school.
the government will have to repeal the Equality Act
Ah yes; the Tory bugbear, the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act 2010 provides a single, consolidated source of discrimination law, covering all the types of discrimination that are unlawful. It simplifies the law by removing anomalies and inconsistencies that had developed over time in the existing legislation, and it extends the protection from discrimination in certain areas.
As far as schools are concerned, for the most part, the effect of the new law is the same as it has been in the past – meaning that schools cannot unlawfully discriminate against pupils because of their sex, race, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation. Protection is now extended to pupils who are pregnant or undergoing gender reassignment. However, schools that are already complying with the law should not find major differences in what they need to do.
So if you’re not one of Toby Young’s sort – not an able-bodied straight white man – then as far as Young is concerned, you are a “functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six”. Young likes the idea that schools should be able to discriminate against and exclude pupils because they’re girls, or not white, or disabled (those ghastly kids in their wheelchairs, or those kids with mentally ill parents, they don’t belong in proper education), they’re not the right religion, or they’re gay or trans.
Yes, he really said all of that.
And when he realised people were taking offence, the Hon. Young seemed to think people would understand it better if only they could read the whole thing. And when this didn’t help he added a petulant paragraph explaining he’d been Terribly Misunderstood by Some People:
I’m using “inclusive” in the broad sense to mean a dumbed down, one-size-fits-all curriculum, rather than the narrow sense of providing equal access to mainstream education for people with disabilities.
It’s interesting that Toby Young should claim that’s what he meant, since that’s quite definitely not what he said.
But it’s also interesting that Young is vaguely aware that “inclusive” has two meanings; the meaning that the Tories have assigned to it, for any educational system that doesn’t privilege able-bodied white boys of good family, which is then said to be “dumbed-down”, is the meaning Young thinks is “the broad sense” of inclusive.
It’s not any sense of “inclusive” at all.
I’ve absolutely nothing against inclusion in that sense. Rather, what I’m against is the way in which opponents of education reform often invoke the low intelligence of some (non-SEN) children as a reason not to introduce more intellectual rigour into a national curriculum that’s meant to be fully inclusive.
Actually, it’s mostly white men like Toby Young who argue that children who aren’t white, who aren’t from families like his, are of “low intelligence”. (For a whole plethora of examples of how white men have solemnly concluded that white men are more intelligent, see Stephen Jay Gould’s Mismeasure of Man.)
Toby Young wants us to know that he has simply concluded – nothing to do with disability discrimination, no indeed! – that there are some childen who are not worthy of being properly educated:
That’s the context in which I use the word “troglodyte”. It’s supposed to conjure up the fictional, cave-dwelling creatures from the movie 2000 Years BC – someone whom it’s plainly ridiculous to try and tailor the national curriculum for.
Because, if you’re Toby Young, it’s “ridiculous” to suppose that a nation could try to provide a decent education to all children. Some children, apparently, are just worthless. It’s “plainly ridiculous” to try to educate a British child who in Toby Young’s opinion will never be more than a “cave-dwelling troglodyte”.
It’s not supposed to be a synonym for a child with SEN. Indeed, a moment’s reflection should make this clear. After all, I’m trying to point up the absurdity of Harman’s position and if I had intended “troglodyte” to mean “children with SEN” then Harman’s position would seem sympathetic rather than absurd.
Why, yes. Yes it does.
Matt Pearson wrote an excellent blog “Forever Young” pointing out the contradictions in Toby Young’s position.
But I wonder if the answer isn’t simpler than that. Young was so sure he could never possibly have meant to exclude children with disabilities from the national curriculum. He only means to exclude children who are “troglodytes”. And he does not like the idea that children might not get to read Huckleberry Finn but would read books written by a woman who was
born in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth and last child of Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker, who were sharecroppers. When Alice Walker was eight years old, she lost sight of one eye when one of her older brothers shot her with a BB gun by accident. In high school, Alice Walker was valedictorian of her class, and that achievement, coupled with a “rehabilitation scholarship” made it possible for her to go to Spelman, a college for black women in Atlanta, Georgia. After spending two years at Spelman, she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and during her junior year traveled to Africa as an exchange student. She received her bachelor of arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965.
Who are Young’s troglodytes?