It's not only "left-wing nutters" who believe in great local schools for all

Francis Gilbert's picture
Toby Young's latest attack on the Local Schools Network in his Telegraph blog tries to lampoon us as "left-wing nutters". Cut behind all his silly verbiage, sneering innuendo and self-publicising grand-standing and you find that the thing he really resents is that we believe that EVERY child should go to a great local school. He is, at heart, an "elitist" who wants to educate his "chosen few" -- and leave the rest to rot. If he was really serious about helping ALL children, he would put all of his energies into supporting his local secondary school. It's already a very good school -- even by his own admission -- but think how it could have benefited from his support in the media, from the backing of his wealthy and influential friends?

In Finland, which I visited a couple of weeks ago, people like Toby Young -- wealthy, well-connected media types -- all send their children to the local school and give these schools their full support. It's actually a very "conservative" country -- extremely Lutheran in its attitudes. The concept of "civic duty" is very strong: well-off parents know the importance of "buying in" to their local school because if they do, they help not only their children but other children as well. They believe in helping children from less advantaged backgrounds than their own. They do this because they are actually quite "conservative"; they want to preserve the integrity and cohesion of local communities. So much research shows that when schools have a real mixture of abilities and backgrounds every child benefits; standards go up across the board. The Finnish are certainly not "left wing nutters" -- and they have the best education system in the world. 

As Toby Young has already noted, I used to believe that a "voucher type" system, a Free School system, was the best way of improving standards. But looking back now, if I put my hand on my heart, I would have to admit I was an "elitist": I actually thought that segregating my child from the rest of the local community in Bethnal Green would benefit him and me. But over time, I came to see that we were ALL losing out: his private school was rotten, he was unhappy, and we were dreadfully isolated in the community, parachuting him in and out of school. I took him out of the private school and have found that he is much, much happier in the local state primary (the absolutely crucial thing for any parent) and doing much better academically because the teachers at his school are AMAZING. Next year, he will go to the local secondary school, which is really improving. I am not a "left-wing nutter", and like Nigel Ford who blogs regularly on the site, I have been a bit of a Tory in the past, and actually voted Lib-Dem in the election. I actually feel quite "conservative" with a small 'c'; I believe in conserving communities, building upon existing foundations, doing my civic duty, helping others less fortunate than myself, not denigrating them. I know my child will bring a lot to his new school -- and will receive a lot too.

I feel proud that I am doing my civic duty by sending my child to the local school and much stronger and happier as a person as well. I want to thank Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn, whose inspirational writing about comprehensives really changed my views: they made me a better person. I feel proud to know Henry Stewart who is so valiantly combating, with his staff and pupils, the terrible blight of homophobia and intolerance that exists in our society. They may well be left-wing, but they are the opposite of "nutters"; they are good, decent people who are doing the right thing for our society.
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook

Be notified by email of each new post.


Michael Keenan's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 12:36

Well said Francis. Probably be pulled apart by Mr Young but he'll find out soon enough that teaching and running a school is more than just talking about it. Not sure he's fully aware of what he's getting himself involved with - I really hope he's watching how Jamie's celebrity teachers are getting on.

Jonny Walker's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 18:08

Don't be too hesitant to speak on our behalf Francis; some of us are quite content with being seen as left-wing nutters. ;)

Look where right-wing nutters are taking us; I know which camp I'd rather be in.

Mr Rogers's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 20:34

Hmm, will you stop the sale of these books Francis Gilbert?

Working the system eh? Chosen few? Amazon says this book came out in 2009. Bit quick for a Damascene conversion eh, Gilbert? Interesting how it was only until your own son went to a particular school that your view on all schools and all pupils changed.

You are no different from Toby Young. You have no right to criticise him, you chump.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 20:41

Maybe you should read Working The System Mr Rogers?

Toby Young's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 20:16

Here's what it says on

"In the last three years the government has changed pretty much every aspect of state education - the admissions process, the national curriculum, exams and assessments, the approach towards Special Needs, the whole attitude to children's general wellbeing.
Working the System provides up-to-date answers to all your questions as a concerned parent. It includes tips and advice on everything from selecting the right school to helping your child make the right choices at GCSE and keeping them happy and motivated; and it is packed with informative case studies - such as 'What could I have done to get more support for my son's dyspraxia?' and 'Can I do a Tony Blair and avoid sending my child to the local sink school?'

"Written by an experienced teacher who has taught in the state sector for twenty years and who has established a reputation as a voice of candour and clarity in the world of modern educational doublespeak,this highly readable guide will help you navigate the complexities of the system and get the very best education for your child.

"Francis Gilbert has taught in a variety of comprehensives in London, and currently teaches English part-time at a comprehensive. His previous books have included bestselling I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here (2004), Teacher On The Run (2005), Yob Nation (2006), and Parent Power (2008).

"He lives in east London with his wife and son. All his pupils think his coolest appearance was on the Russell Brand show."

So tell me, Francis, how do I "do a Tony Blair" and avoid sending my daughter to the local "sink comprehensive"? Oh, sorry, I forgot. You've decided in the two years since this book was published that there's no such thing as a "sink comprehensive" and anyone who tries to "do a Tony Blair" is shirking their "civic duty".

Like Mr Rogers, I'm curious. What brought about your Damascene conversion? Did Fiona Millar take you aside at a party and say, "You're more likely to get on programmes like the Russell Brand show if you defend state schools, you know"?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 21:08

Thanks Toby for advertising my book for me. If you read it, you'll see my attitudes haven't really changed very much since then; my "Damascene conversion" happened before I wrote it. On page 65, there's a section entitled Was Paul McCartney right to send his children to the local school? which reads: "The ex-Beatle is perhaps the most famous person to have insisted upon sending his children to state schools...There's an important lesson to be learned from McCartney and that's not to be a snob or prejudiced about schools. I have spoken to too many parents who have consigned schools to the dustbin based on very flimsy evidence. They've condemned a school because they've seen a few kids misbehave outside school in uniform, or one disaffected former pupil has warned them not to send their children there because it is full of chavs/Asians/whites/morons/drug-dealers. These sorts of blanket judgements are not helpful and usually totally untrue. Base your judgements on firmer ground than this...Personally, I've found McCartney's attitude quite inspirational. Having experienced the difficulty of 'helicoptering' my child into a remote private school, I now appreciate just how great it is that goes to a local school."
Above all, I emphasize that "working the system" starts at home, being a good and supportive parent and that if this is right, much else falls into place. My conclusion is that the best way to "work the system" is to WORK WITH a local school, rather than helicopter them into a covertly or overtly selective school. Paul McCartney was an inspiration too, as you can see; since I took a leaf out of his book (and Melissa and Fiona's too) things have been GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME!

David Medway's picture
Mon, 19/09/2011 - 23:08

I commented on the Toby Young Spectator article which prompted the Telegraph comments at length. All that his comments here continue to suggest to me is that he sees the discussion of the education of children in our society to be the stuff of arrogant ad hominem attacks. I still credit him with doing this on purpose, but the more often he does it the more I start to think that this really might actually be the level of his understanding. If it is, I find the suggestion that he knows what makes a good education depressing.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 21:16

BTW: I point out Blair wouldn't have been able to get his children into the Oratory with the current Admissions Code (2008), and that his kind of "working the system" is over for the most part. But, the new Education Bill (currently being read in Parliament) is stripping the School Adjudicator of his powers and getting rid of Admissions' Forums; so this kind of "working the system" will be up and running again soon. Will you join in me in protesting against this? I am sure Gove will be more likely to listen to you than me!

Add new comment

Already a member? Click here to log in before you comment. Or register with us.