Is Toby ‘FrankenFreeSchoolstein’ Young Destined for P.M. Gove’s Ministry of Silly Education?

Sally Davenport's picture
Okay, I’m sorry. The question might spoil your appetite and leave you nauseous. But is it really that far-fetched?

My concerns stem from an alleged overheard conversation by a friend who had to endure a tête-à-tête on public transport between two apparently well-informed Tories. So I suppose you should take all this with a pinch of salt and sincerely hope its all nonsense. But stranger things have happened in politics.

This alleged noisily whispered exchange started with who should replace Cameron. Obviously, Bojo AKA Boris Johnson’s name quickly came-up. Interestingly, they referred to him as Mr Bojangles and mutually agreed that he should not become leader as he, (allegedly), would bring more baggage than a pratfall of travelling circus clowns to the role at number 10.

So after much intolerable deliberation, they selected the present-day Education Secretary, Michael Gove, creator of freaky Free School policy, to be their potential future leader. This was the point of their conversation where the Twilight Zone fog finally descended. It was speculated that if Gove should be made PM, then Z-list celeb, Sun journalist and author of, ‘How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’, Toby Young might be given the next available Tory-safe constituency and be hypothetically fast-tracked to the Ministry of Education. I presume to continue with his nuts Free School ‘experiment’, but possibly at a national level.

So is this purely a pile of garbage or does it have any credence? Would you be happy for, ‘Come Dine with Me’, Toby Young to have real power over state education? I’m not going to waste my life elaborating on Mr Young’s colourful history. Google him and see for yourself. But what if it did come true?

Is Toby Young the modern day Dr Frankenstein creating and advocating these experimental free schools across our country? In these austere times, Mr Young thinks tax-payers should fund free schools because they are the, ‘research and develop wing of state education’, although Gove has scrapped the urgently needed BSF, (Building Schools for the Future), Funding that many rundown state schools had been assured. Mr Young believes that his new West London Free School should be allowed, (at our expense), ‘to innovate and experiment’, and his school is a ‘bold experiment’.
So, like many experiments, what happens if or when it fails or those volunteers behind it get bored? Who cleans up the mess? Do we just flush the failure down the toilet including the many young lives ruined in this bizarre Free School experiment and let self-appointed individuals like Mr Young simply to try again if it takes their fancy? And when or if they fail, will it be our under-funded local comprehensive state schools that are eventually forced to clean the whacky Free School chaos?

So why should we trust Toby Young and other self-appointed Free School experimentalists? Why should our money be used in these ‘experiments’ when we already have thousands of established and highly successful schools across the country. Why don’t we use the professional educational experts managing these existing schools to drive up standards across the country rather than enter into a free school freak show where those like journalist Toby Young get our money and children to experiment with?

You might construe this to be unfair, after all Toby Young’s West London Free School was paraded on the recent Conservative Party’s TV political broadcast so his school must be successful? But hold on. His small school’s only been running since September last year and has merely a couple of hundred students. So it has no real history and no track record and nearly 4 years until the first GSCE or EngBacs are taken. So the school is still really just an experiment as Mr Young would phrase it? Hardly a blueprint of success to be already boasting about?

But if you switch on the television, Mr Young often pops-up giving the alleged impression that we may be treated to more high achieving Toby schools opening up, perhaps in a town near you? Could we be treated to more of his schools opening up similar to a large well-known expanding ubiquitous fast-food chain? Could his school’s curriculum be akin to a burger and fries set-meal with gimmick toy? The West London Free School brags of a set meal of academia and strong discipline with the gimmick (for the 21st century), being compulsory Latin? So where are all these experimental Toby Young Free Schools? Are they simply in the pipeline, waiting to spring-up everywhere and teach the teachers how schools should operate? No, I can’t see any mention of them on the West London Free School website or Young’s vainglorious webpage. Not even a small metaphorical hotdog stand or coffee booth of a Toby school is proposed outside of Hammersmith. So is the Toby Young Free School experiment faltering already? Can his school only operate where alleged London philanthropists and well-connected local friends can volunteer their services to make his experiment come alive in the laboratory of Dr FrankenFreeschoolstein? Or is Mr Young’s focus now on entering politics and the supposed novelty and ambition of creating more West London Free Schools starting to wear off?

So what now for the ‘experimental’ free school movement? Could celebrities like Keith Chegwin, Jedward and the Compare the Meerkats do a ‘Toby Young’ and also open their own experimental Free Schools? And would it be such a catastrophe if Michael Gove did become PM and appointed, Come Dine with Me’s Toby Young to the Ministry of Education? At least such a role might provide Mr Young with more sufficient personal experience to write a sequel to his film,’ How to Lose Friends and Alienate People’. That might give us something to watch in three years’ time on Film4 on a miserable Wednesday night?
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 12:06

I have noticed now that Toby has started calling himself a "Tory" and seems to have political ambitions. He is a divisive figure who is very good at generating publicity. His school has benefitted from his PR and is massively over-subscribed. His book on free schools was best when it talked about PR. Michael Gove started off as a right wing columnist and has done very well! I suppose Toby is hoping to follow in his footsteps. He now has the credentials of setting up a school -- something Gove doesn't have. They are very similar figures; they are in with the right people, have the run of the right wing press, and think they're always right -- even when they're manifestly wrong.

Felix's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 13:56

Except there are still a lot of ghosts in Toby Young's closet, especially covering his Oxoford and post-Oxford days, and we're keeping all the material very safe until the day we can bring maximum disgrace upon him.

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 14:43

Ohh Felix,
I think we the public have the right to know immediately what Dr FrankenFreeSchoolstein has in his alleged closet although I'm not interested in his dirty socks! If any Tom, Dick or minor celebs like Toby Young, (who has been on 'Come Dine With Me,(Wow Wee!)) or even Shaggy from Scooby Doo wishes setting-up their own state schools and receive our tax money to do so, then surely it is appropriate to come clean with all necessary information? Particularly if hypothetically, an individual is allegedly contemplating jumping into political bed with the this tory government. We, the electorate should know everything, shouldn't we? Come on Felix and spill the beans of truth.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 15:01

This strikes a worrying chord with me because it reminds me of the conversations we had after Michael Gove came to Cockermouth in 2004 (when still a journo) when it was so obvious that there could not be anybody less suitable for any political role which involved people or society.

Having said that I did also appreciate Gove's strengths in rhetoric and being loyal and understand why both why they would be of value to the Conservative party and why many people would respect him.

But with Toby Young where do we begin?
I ended up watching his film when it was on recently. It was excruciatingly awful. He completely failed to understand the difference between being honest (and the time, effort and dedication it takes to be able to honestly portray and area of society) and being ignorant and then he chucked away even the very limited standards he set himself and then got the girl! There was no point at which he seemed to improve himself as a person at all. Instead he seemed to try to gain the buy in of the audience by having a good dad and having had a privileged background.

Beyond that he is simply an extreme example of all that is bad with the tabloids in all the intense technicolour glory cyberspace now affords them as I point out to him here:

I think no matter how safe the seat he could lose it.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 16:01

Personally I find Toby's PR for his Free School with gowns etc a bit half-hearted...I mean if he's trying to go down the Hogwarts image why aren't the teachers wearing pointy hats as well???

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 17:02

The traditional school gown is a masterstroke because the sort of ambitious parents he is after are often attracted to this sort of thing; some are gullible enough to believe that houses and gowns alone are all it takes to improve ethos and behaviour.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 18:12

While the parents of dysfunctional families will feel totally alienated.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 18:31

You keep coming up with this accusation but the school is in the ballpark for % FSM pupils, if we accept this as a proxy measure of poorer families. He needs to perhaps report the LBHF average better when comparing the school - he is saying 28% and I think he needs to state 32%. What this might mean is perhaps they need to get another 5 poor students in per year out of a cohort of 120.

I think you underestimate dysfunctional families some of them will crave this offer. Who indeed are we to say what kind of school people should choose? Leave it up to the parents and children.

Mr_Chas's picture
Mon, 05/11/2012 - 15:03

Speaking as someone who has a great deal of experience of meeting bog standard parents at primary school gates, in inner London Boroughs I might add, this is where the Guardian reading middle classes in LSN go wrong. Way the majority of these parents are in awe of gowns and would kill to have their kids attend these free schools. Wake up and smell the coffee guys. Not for nothing does WLFS have 9 applications for every place. It's called PARENTAL DEMAND. Giving the punters what they want....

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 20:36

I'm going to disagree with both of you here. Firstly one doesn't have to be rich or middle class to have ambitions for their children so I've no idea why we are suddenly talking FSM numbers at WLFS. Secondly I'm not sure that dysfunctional families will feel alienated by Young et al since part of being dysfunctional is not giving a toss about anything. Most of the dysfunctional parents I know send their kids to wherever they went to school or they don't bother to apply at all and get whatever the LEA can give them. Either way I'm entirely unconvinced that London's problem families are beating down Young's door.

FJ Murphy's picture
Mon, 05/11/2012 - 16:46

I totally agree with what you have said, Mr C.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 05/11/2012 - 17:01

Mr Chas - the 9 applications for every place figure can only be upheld if every single mention of WLFS in the list of preferences is counted. The Independent found that about 250 parents put the WLFS down as their first choice. That's around two first-choice applications for WLFS. That is, actually, something to be proud of with twice as many first-choice applications. However, counting second, third even sixth choices to bump up the application figures is misleading rather like doubling the number of parents who make applications (ie two parents for one child).

FJ Murphy's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 20:59

It's a shame that you cannot discuss this topic without resorting to abuse, juvenile name-calling and ad hominem arguments. You are so consumed with hatred for those who don't agree with your educational views.

Leonard James's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 21:25

Who are you talking about?

FJ Murphy's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 21:52

Sally Davenport describes Toby Young as a 'Z-list celebrity', 'FrankenFreeSchoolStein' and 'Sun Journalist'. (I assume most contributors to LSN consider 'Sun Journalist' the ultimate insult, as that paper appeals to the sort of working class people who need to be enlightened into a Guardian frame of mind.)

FJ Murphy's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 21:53

I did not mean you, just to make that absolutely clear.

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 22:24

There is nothing wrong with being a Sun journalist and all this desire to enter into the boring working class middle class blahblahblah debate is a load of nonsense. Plus I love a read of the Currant Bun in the morning when the moment takes me.
FM I'll choose another letter of the alphabet if it makes you happy for Young's rank of celebrity but I am sure the self-depreciating Mr Young would prefer a zinger of a Z to dreary D.
And aren't you an A* WLFS achiever with your use of latin. Well done you!
Seriously though, aren't you worried that our money is being used in risky Free School experiments by celebs and non-educationalists when BSF has been cut and we have already thousands of outstanding high achieving educational experts in the UK who know how to raise standards?

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 23:16

Lots of love to you FM and no slight meant on your Latin expertise. Agree with you on public exams being dumbed down over the last few decades. Agree that a lot of money has been wasted. Still doesn't justify this strange Free School experiment.

FJ Murphy's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 22:42

I was lucky enough to complete my schooling before the collapse of standards with the introduction of GCSEs, so I have a good old-fashioned A in Latin. I find the poor quality of public exams much more alarming than what may be a worthwhile experiment in a new type of school. I have seen plenty of money wasted in my 25 years teaching in state schools, but I don't have time to go in to that at the moment.

FJ Murphy's picture
Mon, 05/11/2012 - 16:45

Thanks SD! It makes a change to get some positive response from LSN, instead of being called a fascist, Tory etc etc.

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 21:08

Hi everybody,
The debates great. However can I ask everybody to put my story 'out there' by any means including twitter, blogs and facebook - smoke signals if you like. Really want to see if there's any truth in Sun journalist and 'Z-celeb' Toby Young having ambitions in government. So throw your nets out, far and wide.
On more thing. There is no evidence that Keith Chegwin wants to open his own chain of Free Schools although the 'Compare the Meerkats' and Jedward I'm not so sure on.
-Must get back to you on this WLFS Vs Hogwarts issue.

Sally Davenport's picture
Thu, 01/11/2012 - 21:10

Hi everybody,
The debates great. However can I ask everybody to put my story 'out there' by any means including twitter, blogs and facebook - smoke signals if you like. Really want to see if there's any truth in Sun journalist and Z-celeb Toby Young having ambitions in government. So throw your nets out, far and wide.
On more thing. There is no evidence that Keith Chegwin wants to open his own chain of Free Schools although the 'Compare the Meerkats' and Jedward I'm not so sure on.
-Must get back to you on this WLFS Vs Hogwarts issue.

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