Michael Gove speaks up for ‘intellectual diversity’ in education debate in defence of Toby Young

Janet Downs's picture

Former education secretary Michael Gove tweeted yesterday in support of Toby Young’s appointment to the board of the Office for Students (OfS):

'Adrian [Wooldridge] and Sir Anthony [Seldon] are right - @toadmeister has set up great comprehensive schools bringing academic excellence to all - we need intellectual diversity in the education debate.'

I agree with the call for intellectual diversity in the education debate – it was sadly lacking when Michael Gove was at the Department for Education (DfE). 

Those who opposed him were vilified as the Blob and enemies of promise. 

He distorted data and discounted evidence which didn’t fit his prejudices (for evidence see this site ad nauseam).

His former colleague David Laws has revealed that the DfE under Gove was dysfunctional and out-of-control

Even Gove’s tweeted praise of @toadmeister is overdone.  Toby Young founded one comprehensive secondary, the West London Free School (WLFS) and three primaries which, like all English primary schools, are comprehensive in intake.  Two of the primaries are outstanding (the third hasn’t been inspected yet).  The outstanding ratings are commendable.  19% of English primary schools share this grade.  WLFS has been judged good.  It shares this judgement with 56% of English secondary schools. 

Perhaps Gove’s intellectual diversity could extend to praising all schools which share or exceed the same Ofsted rating as WLFS.  But Gove has always promoted his favourites and ignored the rest especially if the rest contained the despised ‘council schools’.

The objections to Toby Young’s appointment have mainly concentrated on his incontinent tweets which he’s busily removing according to the Independent.   But there are other concerns: possible conflict of interest, worries about his independence and his lack of rigour when discussing free school data* – a trait shared by former New Schools Network director and former aide to the Prime Minister, Nick Timothy.

Perhaps Gove’s intellectual diversity could extend to addressing these points.  Perhaps Young could address them too instead of calling those who oppose his appointment as the ‘twitchfork mob’. 

Much discussion about Young’s appointment has been distasteful – but much of it stemmed from Young’s own tweets.  Saying this isn’t, as many of his supporters claim, an attack on free speech.  Young can go on tweeting what he wants as long as it’s legal – tweets can be so revealing of character.  But free speech works both ways – anyone who disagrees with a tweet (or blog or article) has the right to argue against it.

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.  Beyond that, he was on his own, she said. 

*For details of how free school statistics have been misused see here


Notes: Ofsted judgements were for the most recent inspections as at 31 August 2017.  

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