How sad that Toby Young slams lessons which combat prejudice against LGBT people

Francis Gilbert's picture

Perhaps the most important value that education can impart to pupils is that of tolerance. Henry Stewart, a founding member of the LSN, wrote a blog for this site recently which showed how the school where he is chair of governors, Stoke Newington School, is taking valiant steps to in-calculate this crucial value into its pupils. Most particularly, the lessons were aimed at celebrating diversity so that its pupils can learn that the sexual choices that humans make can be a cause for celebration -- and not shame, an emotion too often that walks hand in hand with sexual choices. The school was inclusive in its approach, celebrating the lifestyles of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gender (LBGT) people during a week focusing upon these issues.

Toby Young savagely attacked these lessons in a recent blog for the Spectator. He writes: "The very idea that a group of 12-year-old schoolchildren would be dragooned into ‘creating banners and other materials’ to promote LGBT week is preposterous. How many ‘transgendered’ pupils could there possibly be at a comprehensive in Stoke Newington? It stretches credulity to breaking point." His language is instructive. He uses the verb "dragooned" to describe the way in which the pupils were taught; in other words, suggesting that they were taught about these issues against their wishes. But there is absolutely no suggestion that they were "dragooned", kicking and screaming against their will, into anything.

Furthermore, Young uses the adjective "preposterous" to describe the activities on offer, thereby pouring scorn on something which aims to encourage understanding, further knowledge, develop creativity and, most importantly, combat prejudice. His refusal to appreciate the need to get children thinking about these issues is deeply troubling; it suggests that he thinks that they should not be discussed, explored, or thought about at all. It has worrying implications for what might happen at his own school; how many teachers would suggest now similar approaches at his own school?

But I suppose his rant does raise an important debate. How do we tackle the deep-rooted homophobia and intolerance of sexual diversity that exists in our society? How do we bring up our young people to feel comfortable about their sexual preferences?

One thing is for sure, not by pouring scorn on the brilliant efforts of Stoke Newington School.

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Alison's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 18:24

Oh dear. Did Toby Young really say that? How many schools has he visited? How many children and young people has he met?
Even if you agree with his dubious theory that schoolchildren will not meet transgendered classmates, the idea that children should only learn in school things that they will have direct contact with is ludicrous and would rule out most subjects. I studied icebergs in geography but I have only ever seen them on the TV, was that preposterous?

But it is not a preposterous idea that school children are a diverse bunch, is it? At an infants school I know there was a child who who was female but looked like a boy. At my own school there was a girl, who behaved like a boy and away from school dressed like a boy too. These people may not have described themselves as transgendered but they certainly were "different" from the rest of their classmates. Happily the schools they were at accepted them for who they were and any bullying was immediately dealt with. It is not at all preposterous to suggest that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. You only need one "different" person in a school for issues of intolerance to arise. Credulity doesn't have to be stretched at all. These children exist and they go to school. And just because you can't see "difference" on the outside, doesn't mean it's not there on the inside.

Oh and don't forget children have a life outside school where they have families and friends and go out, where they may very well meet and know transgendered, lesbian gay or bisexual people. They deserve to be treated with respect too.

Ellie's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 18:41

I am 15 years old and am in my final year to school, I have gay and bisexual friends, luckily at my school (Avon Valley School) there is no big bullying problem targeted at sexual minorities. However I think that celebrating and learning about gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people is a great idea. The negative term 'that is so gay' is used frequently, especially in the younger generation, and I think that if we had more of an understanding at a younger age then more people would understand that it is not a negative thing to be different. Why should we all be the same? It would make life extremely boring and bland. Don't push sexual minority education to the side. It needs to be tackled head on so that, we, as humans can be accepted and accepting by and of other people.
There is nothing 'preposterous'[ about understanding and embracing the world we live in. So Mr. Young, next time you feel like taking a dig at the way a school teaches important life lessons, you give it a go and see how you fare.

Good on you Stoke Newington School, I wish all schools would follow in your example.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 20:12

I have to say I am concerned that Mr Young's take on this given that he is now apparently in a position of influence within his free school. Even if he does find the idea of tolerating gay, lesbian and transgendered/transexual people unacceptable, he should by now be aware of his right not to express it in such basic terms in a public forum , be more aware of his educational responsibilities in respect of encouraging respect and diversity, and to think before he speaks. There is no room in education for bigotry in this modern, fast moving world where instilling people skills and encouraging tolerance is paramount.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 23:04

It's good to hear Alison, Ellie and Rosalyn's views, and that there are lots of people who see the vital importance of celebrating diversity.

Allan Beavis's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 13:41

I suppose Toby Young’s career in the media has allowed him to publicise both his free school and himself but this rant - which is neither satirical nor informed – only serves to strike fear into the heart of anyone who believes that education should be run by professional educators and not by self-serving, meddling parents. He glibly evokes the torture of intellectuals during the Chinese Cultural Revolution in his attack on Stoke Newington School’s LGBT celebrations but I wonder what form of torment his free school will inflict on their students if they refuse to conform to his restrictive and mocking view of the world? At least in Stoke Newington School, we know that our children will not be excluded because of their class, race, sexuality and ability. Conjecture in journalism is never a good idea, so had he been present at Stoke Newington School during LGBT week, he will have seen no evidence of authoritarian arm-bending but plenty of fun, energy, talent and the community coming together with the school as the focus. Education has to be more than just GCSE grades. My experience of the state education system is that, by opening up children’s minds to the possibilities and diversities of life outside the confines of their parents’ or carers examples and expectations, state schools are helping to raise a generation of kids to become broadminded and less accepting of any type of prejudice. If there is any argument against free schools, then Mr Young has, in his gauche and childish way, provided us with the answers.

Toby Young's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 09:20

The most depressing thing about this thread and the one beneath my Spectator column referred to in Francis's post is that no teachers or pupils at SNS have weighed in on my side. Surely, there must be some teachers and pupils at the school who think, like me, that the time spent celebrating LGBT Week would be better spent studying History or English Literature or French? Why is tolerance of sexual diversity virtually mandatory, while tolerance of any dissent from the leftwing orthodoxies of the Governing Body and SLT verboten? Is there not a single Tory in the school? If not, that speaks volumes about the atmosphere of intellectual oppression that policies such as "celebrating" LGBT Week have engendered.

I think there is a real and important disagreement here lurking beneath all the defensive comments. It comes down to what you think schools are for. I believe that priority should be given to teaching children the best that has been thought and written, whereas the staff at SNS appear to believe that priority should be given to instilling certain values in children. (Or, as Francis would have it, "in-calculating" them.) The issue isn't the the nature of the values in question – in SNS's case, the standard diet of politically correct gobbledegook – but the fact that they're being prioritised above subject knowledge. I would still object if the Year 8s were being dragooned into celebrating Empire History Week. The purpose of a good school should not be to enable a group of adults to transmit their values to a group of children, but to transmit a core body of knowledge.

It is surely wrong for teachers to regard their first responsibility as disseminating values, however sincere they are in their belief that society as a whole will benefit from the dissemination of those values. Their first responsibility should be to the children in their care, not to "the community", and by having them waste their time on creating placards and posters to promote LGBT Week, rather than acquiring knowledge, they are doing them a disservice. At present, only 49% of pupils at SNS get five GCSEs at grade C or above including Maths and English, well below the London average. Compare that with the results at the nearby Mossbourne Community Academy where 82% get five good GCSEs. And it manages that with a much more challenging intake. 41% of children on free school meals as opposed to SNS's 27%, which is below the borough average.

The tragedy is that teachers like Allan Beavis believe they're acting in the best interests of the most vulnerable, when it is precisely his approach to education that makes it so much harder for children at progressive, inner-city community schools like SNS to compete with those who've been to more traditional secondary schools, whether faith schools, grammar schools, fee-paying schools or academies like Mossbourne. It helps explain why Oxford and Cambridge took more applicants last year from a single school – Westminster – than from the entire population of children eligible for free school meals. In the end, this sort of progressive approach to education entrenches poverty and protects privilege.

You can bet your bottom dollar that children don't waste their time "celebrating" LGBT Week at the schools that serve the ruling class. If you want the children at SNS to have a hope of competing with them, you shouldn't waste their time on it, either.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 09:32

I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding here. These sort of activities don't replace the normal curriculum in most schools - indeed as Henry pointed out it is possible to teach 'academic' subjects using examples like Alan Turing. Usually celebrations like Black History month take place alongside the usual timetable. Yet again these articles in the Spectator and Telegraph are being used to misrepresent what goes on in many schools. Nor does LGBT at Stoke Newington School tell us anything about why Oxford and Cambridge took more applicants form a single private school than the entire FSM population ( although I think you will find even these statistics about FSM pupils are deliberately perverted by Michael Gove excluding pupils who are educated in FE colleges). The reasons for the relatively poor outcomes of some students are complex, as I am sure the founders of free schools will discover if they do genuinely attract mixed intakes. There are Tories at SNS and in many other London state schools - I certainly know several in my local schools. Happily most are more tolerant than this comment appears to suggest.

Natacha Kennedy's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 21:32

Toby. Transgender pupils are the group most likely to leave school before 16. People like you are in effect excluding them from an education. That is 1% of the school population. The same number as children of Jamican origin are performing less well because people like you think schools should not try and accommodate them. But I guess the few hundred kids in your school are worth much more than these children, who are just freaks and probably sub-human.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 19:28

@ Toby Young. The most depressing thing is not that no one at SNS has supported you but because the assumptions you make (“the standard diet of politically correct gobbldebook”, LGBT being prioritized over the academic curriculum, atmosphere of intellectual oppression ad nauseum) in your original article demand a robust rebuttal, if indeed the views you expound are worthy of rational debate to begin with.

What is questionable is that you randomly pluck SNS from the Local Schools Network website and then smear it, deliberately and falsely, with the brush of loony left wing policy when you have never visited the school and have no knowledge or understanding of its principles. You did not come to the LGBT evening yet nevertheless penned an article about the school’s commitment to diversity in order to poke fun at people around the country who do not subscribe to your narrow and divisive view of education and society.

I can assure you that there is no atmosphere of oppression – intellectual or otherwise – at SNS and that is because it encourages its students to question and to co-exist in harmony. What is oppressive is instilling children with your own narrow values and, in so doing, marginalizing people who do not conform. SNS teaches the curriculum, “subject knowledge” - in your words, the best that has been thought and written - but it also educates its students in the value of self-respect and respecting others. To do otherwise, would be a dereliction of duty to the students in their care, who in reality do not exist in a school bubble but in a community in which their school life plays a large but not exclusive part.

The assumption that SNS teachers use their position to disseminate their own values at the expense of teaching the curriculum is unfounded. You also make the assumption that I am teacher (I am not, I am parent) and that teachers who do not subscribe to your “traditional” teaching principles are acting in the best interests of the “vulnerable”. Not everyone who is gay, working class, non-white, non-Christian – shall I go on and fall into your politically correct trap? – is vulnerable. The whole point about promoting diversity is to eradicate the kind of prejudices that you appear to support as you denigrate those who will not conform to your playground clique.

You push GCSE statistics in an attempt to prove your point that placard painting results in academic mediocrity but the assumptions you make here are both illogical and irrelevant as the extra-curricular activity of preparing for LGBT did not impede curricular learning in any way.

What is worrying (“tragic” - surely a term applicable to natural disasters, Shakespearean anti-heroes and the deluded?) is your assertion that a little time spent teaching children that there are alternative lifestyles and beliefs will adversely affect their academic results. I don’t think it makes a blind bit of difference but what I am certain it will do is to help raise a generation of people for whom sexual orientation, creed, class and colour bear no relevance to their value in society. Luckily for you, one day there will be no need to celebrate LGBT because schools like SNS have played their part in eradicating phobia.

As a media personality, perhaps you crave acceptance by the Establishment (the “ruling classes”) but many people do not and you have the tools at your disposal to have your scorn published for financial gain in a magazine. Unfortunately, the vast majority of hard working and dedicated teachers have no such outlet to challenge the stereotypical, personal and offensive way in which you depict them.

I wish you every success with your free school and hope that people will not follow your example and make assumptions and judgements about either your integrity or your suitability in heading up a new school based on any prejudices they might form from reading your memoirs and articles of your younger self. If you were of school age, SNS would accept you.

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 11:44

@ Anxiously Stable.

Having enetered the dark, damp cave of the Telegraph blog, I wonder whether Toby Young's rallying cry of support for his original ill-judged, un-researched and vindictive article to the Phobic Fraternity was not a deliberate attempt to incite hatred, especially as he himself here rails at the lack of support for the misappropriations and fallacies he wrote?

That he should continue to gladly dig himself further into this pit of paranoia and bile, when I assume he is aware of education legislation and codes of conduct with regard to schools, child protection and inclusion, calls into question his suitability to found a new school or be in charge of children. Is the Secretary of State for Education aware of what he has been doing and saying?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 18:56

I gather debate on Toby Young's Spectator article is raging on his blog on the Telegraph. For a more balanced discussion, please refer to the Spectator strand

Toby Young’s poor judgement in his own careless conduct in writing the Spectator article calls into question his suitability for leading the foundation of a new school.

The fact remains that Toby Young judged it appropriate to use his column in the Spectator to attack his critics and, in doing so, used the example of Stoke Newington School to ridicule the state education comprehensive system. As far as I am aware, no one at School Newington School has publicly attacked Mr. Young for his mission in setting up the West London Free School so why he chose to criticize this school is a mystery.

He made assumptions and judgments about the preparation and purpose of LGBT day, about the integrity of the school’s policy and staff and he infers that the school is in the grip of a totalitarian or fascistic regime (The Chinese Cultural Revolution, “verboten”, re-education camps).

He deliberately chose to write his article without having visited the school, experienced the curricular and extra-curricular activities of LGBT, spoken to governors, staff or students. He has not, to date, made a direct and coherent response to those correspondents on this site or other sites who have questioned the crass and dangerous assumptions he has made and the prejudices he appears to hold.

None of this would be particularly important if he were just a media personage or a poster boy for the Tory Party but he is someone who is leading the mission to set up a school and, as such, will have moral and legal responsibilities towards children.

This founder of West London Free School ridiculed – in print - the purpose of LGBT at Stoke Newington School, seemingly unaware that, by law, schools (including his own) must ensure that they deliver a rounded and varied education including not just the academic curriculum but the PSHCE topics such as LGBT awareness.

Will he therefore flagrantly encourage his school to disregard those areas of education, enshrined in statue law and policy, which he deems unnecessary ? Will he encourage his students to follow his example here to bully and ridicule an institution or people who do not conform to their values?

I am not suggesting that Toby Young sought to incite hatred by blogging about his lack of support on this site on his Daily Telegraph blog but I am saying that he is not disingenuous, so he must have known that by raising the topic of teaching LGBT on the Telegraph blog, he would encourage the type of ignorant and murderous bile which he, as the founder of a new school, has an obligation to ensure that his school educates its students to eradicate. By, er, including subjects such as LGBT awareness.

If the Governor of my children’s school had conducted himself so embarrassingly in public and in print in the way Toby Young has, I would find it impossible to defend him or the ethos of the school which he governed. In my view, Toby Young has been very energetic and public in his mission to pre-judge, misappropriate, ridicule and divide. His conduct and his judgement have been seriously flawed and therefore his suitability to be involved at the highest level in the education of children has to be called into question.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 19:05

I can only agree with your balanced assessment Alan. Can you imagine what it's going to be like for LGBT teachers and students at WLFS after this debacle?

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 08/03/2011 - 08:56

Possible discrimination against LGBT teachers raises the question of possible discrimination against teachers because of their faith, or lack of it. Legal advice given to the National Secular Society warns that the Government may be in breach of EU Employment Laws if faith Academies discriminate against teachers of other faiths or with no faith.

The Society claims that the Education Bill will allow faith schools to require that 100% of their staff belong to that faith.

If this is true, then the Bill removes the statutory protection against discrimination which is offered to school staff.

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