Who is Toby Young and why did the free schools campaigner resign from the university watchdog?

TOBY Young is an outspoken journalist and columnist who has become one of the most vocal advocates of the free schools movement.

Earlier this year the writer faced a backlash after being appointed to a role with a new university watchdog – here’s the lowdown on him and why he resigned from the job…

 Toby Young is an outspoken journalist and columnist

PA:Press Association

Toby Young is an outspoken journalist and columnist

Who is Toby Young?

Toby Young was born in Buckinghamshire on October 17, 1963, the son of Labour peer Michael and radio producer Sasha Moorsom.

Despite re-taking his O-Levels he gained a place to study PPE at Brasenose College, Oxford, and graduated with a First Class degree.

In 1991, he co-founded the Modern Review magazine, whose motto was “low culture for highbrows”, but closed it down in 1995 with the publication close to financial collapse.

Young moved to New York to work for Vanity Fair, a tumultuous five-year period which inspired his memoir, How to Lose Friends & Alienate People, published in 2001.

The book was later turned into a one-man play, which the author performed in himself, and later a feature film starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst and Megan Fox.

Since he was sacked by Vanity Fair Young has been a columnist, contributor and editor for various publications, including The Spectator, the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.

The 54-year-old has also been a restaurant critic and columnist for the Evening Standard and The Independent on Sunday, and been a judge on TV shows Top Chef and Hell’s Kitchen.

Young co-founded the West London Free School, which opened in Hammersmith in 2011 – however, he stood down as CEO of the school in 2016 after admitting he hadn’t realised how difficult it would be to run.

The journalist remains an outspoken advocate of the free school concept, and is the Director of the New Schools Network, which lobbies for more of the government-funded institutions.

Young has been married to Caroline Bondy since 2001, and they have four children together.

 Young with Caroline Bondy, his wife since 2001

Rex Features

Young with Caroline Bondy, his wife since 2001

Why did Toby Young’s university watchdog role spark controversy?

At the start of 2018, Young was appointed to the board of the Office for Students (OfS), a new higher education watchdog.

His appointment provoked a considerable backlash, with critics highlighting a series of social media posts as evidence he was unsuitable for the role.

Young said he regretted the “sophomoric, politically incorrect remarks” he made on Twitter.

He added: “I hope people will judge me by my actions, not a few imprudent things I’ve tweeted or written in my 30-year career as a journalist.”

Questions were also asked about the Department for Education’s (DfE) statement that Young’s beneficial “diverse experience” included teaching posts at Harvard and Cambridge.

He clarified the DfE’s assertion to The Guardian: “I taught undergrads at Harvard and Cambridge and was paid to do so but these weren’t academic ‘posts’ and I’ve never made that claim.”

Despite Labour calling for Young to be removed from the watchdog position, Young was robustly defended by Boris Johnson.

The Foreign Secretary said the free schools campaigner “will bring independence, rigour and caustic wit” to the role.

Young also spoke of his belief that his appointment is being criticised largely because of his political leanings rather than his qualifications for the role.

He told The Spectator’s Coffee House podcast: “One of the reasons that my appointment has caused such a fuss is because I am an outspoken Tory and a defender of the government’s education reforms.

“This is a sector, and I think there is no secret, which is completely dominated by the left.”

The Spectator’s editor Fraser Nelson came to Toby’s defence by announcing his regular column would be renamed “No Sacred Cows”.

In an article announcing the change, he wrote: “People should be judged by what they do with their lives, not by the worst of their bad jokes.

“And it might drive Toby’s critics mad, but he has done more for others in the last few years than most of his critics will do in a lifetime.”

Why did Toby Young resign his post on the university watchdog?

In an article on January 9th posted on The Spectator’s Coffee House blog Young revealed he was standing down from the Office for Students.

Young wrote: “I have decided to stand down from the Office for Students. My appointment has become a distraction from its vital work of broadening access to higher education and defending academic freedom.

“The caricature drawn of me in the last seven days, particularly on social media, has been unrecognisable to anyone who knows me.

“But some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong – and I unreservedly apologise.

“I would like to thank the Prime Minister for standing by me, and drawing a distinction between my earlier life and my subsequent record in education.”

His resignation came after more than 200,000 digitally signed an online petition calling for his sacking.

Toby Young resigns from board of a new university regulator after row over controversial comments


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