The high principles of the loathsome Toby Young have a remarkable flexibility: he is an ardent conservative and free marketeer, yet in order to keep himself in the style to which he has become accustomed, he has gracefully accepted a position paid out of public funds. He is also a ferocious opponent of Government waste, but has just made a pitch for more of it. Such is the world of today’s pragmatic conservatism.
Yes Tobes, you've been rumbled again
Tobes has decided that, as he is head of the New Schools Network, which promotes his favourite subject, Free Schools, that there should be more of them. In pursuit of this objective, he has hit on a measure of school examination attainment called Progress 8. This, he has declared in a routine slice of shameless propagandising for the Spectator magazine, justifies the establishment of more Free Schools.
After all, he claims, “There are now three times as many in the country’s most deprived areas as in the least deprived”, and as for those opposed to his grand vision for the promotion of Himself Personally Now, well, “The Labour Party and the teaching unions will continue to bang on about free schools being a middle class vanity project, but the results speak for themselves”. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.
That misses all the failures, the occasional incidence of forthright criminality, the skewing of books by having friendly local authorities provide accommodation on, shall we say, favourable terms, the ability of Free Schools to bust national pay restraint and cream off teachers from the state sector, and the gloss provided by something that is new, different and momentarily exciting. Plus a problem Tobes has inadvertently mentioned himself.
Last April, in response to the ASCL’s comment “‘Creating surplus places: an inefficient use of public money’: our comment on today’s free schools report”, he told that “Over 80% of free schools opened or approved to open since 2014 have been in areas where there's a demographic need for new places”. Think about that for a moment.
What Toby Young admitted there is that as much as 20% of Free School places have been provided where they are not needed. Had any local authority done that, not only he, but also the whole of the right-wing press and new media, including groups like the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance, would have come down on them like the proverbial tonne of bricks. And they would have been absolutely right to do so.
But if it’s Tobes’ pet project - indeed, the whole raison d’être of his current job - then wasting public funds is fine. We have a funding crisis in schools right now, and here is an alleged conservative and free marketeer demanding that public money is sprayed up the wall on a concept that has been shown time and again to be an inefficient allocation of that money. Waste is fine as long as it props up Tobes’ ideology.
The Free Schools concept damaged educational standards in Sweden, from where the concept was imported. Thus far, it has only damaged the public finances. For this, and that is has not yet fouled up young Britons’ futures, we should count ourselves lucky.