Personal attacks just lose friends and alienate people

5th February 2010 at 00:00

In the past year or so, there has been a great deal of media coverage of Toby Young's plan for a Swedish-style "free school" in west London. Now he gets a slot in The TES ("The debate: should parents be allowed to set up schools?", January 29).

In not one of these articles and appearances has Mr Young thought it necessary to address the actual issues involved. Typically, most of his latest contribution consists of a personal and sexist attack on Fiona Millar, rather than a coherent argument in favour of his own ideas.

The Campaign for State Education has yet to read or hear any detailed explanation from Mr Young of why Acton High School, in spite of excellent Ofsted reports, is not good enough for his children and those of his friends.

As for his assertion that the type of school he wants to set up "has not had a negative impact on existing schools", there is strong evidence from Sweden that the "free school" scheme is costly, especially in urban areas, and that it undermines social cohesion. Indeed, concern has been expressed that the scheme is most popular with right-wing middle-class families in the cities and that this has led both to the setting up of fundamentalist religious schools and to increased social segregation.

Mr Young also maintains that, in Sweden, "standards in maintained schools have risen". He does not explain whether this is because of, or in spite of, "free schools" but, in either case, standards have not risen sufficiently to improve Sweden's overall position in tables of international comparisons, in which the country remains stuck well behind its neighbour, Finland. The latter, of course, has the kind of system that Mr Young dismisses as "Stalinist" - one designed to optimise the talents of all the nation's children, rather than to privilege those of influential and very noisy members of the chattering classes.

Michael Pyke, Spokesman for the Campaign for State Education, Staffordshire.

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