Thursday Truths: Toby Young and Mainstream Education

On the 1st January 2018, it was announced that former The Sun journalist and free school advocate Toby Young was appointed by Theresa May’s Conservatives government to the executive of the newly created Office for Students (OfS). This is to help head the government’s drive to apply market forces to higher education in England, as new laws come into force that will regulate universities in the same way as water or gas utilities, according to ministers.

So why I am talking about Toby Young? On the 1st July 2012, Toby was writing in his blog No Sacred Cows”.

In the blog, Toby said the following –

Inclusive. It’s one of those ghastly, politically correct words that have survived the demise of New Labour. Schools have got to be “inclusive” these days. That means wheelchair ramps, the complete works of Alice Walker in the school library (though no Mark Twain) and a Special Educational Needs Department that can cope with everything from Dyslexia to Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy. If Gove is serious about wanting to bring back O-levels the government will have to repeal the Equality Act because any exam that isn’t “accessible” to a functionally illiterate troglodyte with a mental age of six will be judged to be “elitist” and therefore forbidden by Harman’s Law.

This particular blog resurfaced again this week enlight of Toby’s new appointment to OfS.

I started my education in 1984 in Our Lady of Lourdes Primary School in Greencastle, Co. Tyrone. This school was mainstream, which meant I didn’t have to segregate from my community and children my own age to receive an education.  .

Thursday Truths: Toby Young and Mainstream Education

Was the school equipped to meet my needs?

The school was more or less suitable for me. This was a single story building and was a short distance from my home. As I was quite young, the full effect of my disability still had not manifested itself greatly at this period of my life. I was still walking at this point, albeit in small amounts and it was getting difficult. I did have a wheelchair for support and in the later years at the school, a classroom assistance to help me. Ann quickly became a close friend of mine’s and my family. Because I am 3ft 3” tall, the only physical change the school had to do, was to get me a chair and fix it to a base, so I could be raised to the appropriate height of the desk.

The time then came to move to high school in 1991 and that was a little more complicated, as physical changes would have to be made to whichever school I chose to attend. Thankfully the same classroom assistant Ann came with me to the new school.

I ended up going St Joseph’s High School in Plumbridge, Co. Tyrone. This too was another mainstream school and I got to stay with my friends and continue my education with them and make new friends along the way.

Thursday Truths: Toby Young and Mainstream Education

This school was on 4 different floors, with no way for wheelchairs to access between then, no toilet which was accessible and a much further distance to travel.

At this school, again the willpower, the drive and the ethos to provide and full education for all it’s pupils was there and I was no different.

At this point of my life, the degenerative effects of my disability had taken hold and I was now using a wheelchair on a more permanent basis.

The school were able to build a disabled toilet for myself and any future pupils with disabilities who may come to the school.

As for access to different floors, they provided me with a caterpillar type machine which connects to the wheelchair and drags it up the stairs. Before that was got, school staff and friends in my class carried me and my wheelchair to the different floors.

I was allowed out of classes 5 minutes early to get moving from one floor to the next, as it was slow and wouldn’t be an obstacle to other pupils using the stairs. The school also counteracted this by scheduling, to the best they could, each of my classes on different floors next to each other to minimise movement from floor to floor and being a yo-yo each day.

My experience as someone with a disability, I had a full and positive mainstream education.  Not only was it positive for me, but it was positive for my classmates. I wasn’t removed from my peers and it removed any potential taboos for them about disabilities.

My education give me the confidence to be the man I am and do the things I do now. Would I be the same person, if i didn’t meet the people I did and had all the experiences I had? Probably not, as it would have sent me in a different direction in my life and I enjoy where I am in my life now.

A mainstream education may not be possible for every child, but where it is, you should fight to have. If you are told it’s too disruptive for you child or other children, prove them wrong

Toby did qualify this blog in recent days, in light of it’s resurgence and his new role with OfS.

Some people have misunderstood this paragraph. I’m using “inclusive” in the broad sense to mean a dumbed down, one-size-fits-all curriculum, rather than the narrow sense of providing equal access to mainstream education for people with disabilities. I’ve absolutely nothing against inclusion in that sense. Rather, what I’m against is the way in which opponents of education reform often invoke the low intelligence of some (non-SEN) children as a reason not to introduce more intellectual rigour into a national curriculum that’s meant to be fully inclusive. That’s the context in which I use the word “troglodyte”. It’s supposed to conjure up the fictional, cave-dwelling creatures from the movie One Million Years BC – someone whom it’s plainly ridiculous to try and tailor the national curriculum for. It’s not supposed to be a synonym for a child with SEN. Indeed, a moment’s reflection should make this clear. After all, I’m trying to point up the absurdity of Harman’s position and if I had intended “troglodyte” to mean “children with SEN” then Harman’s position would seem sympathetic rather than absurd.

Whatever Toby’s intentions were and what he meant to say, this choice of words have done untold hurt and pain across the PWD world. It’s another brick in the wall of self-doubt, feeling like second-class citizens and feeling we don’t belong & are not wanted in the world.

It’s 2018 and it’s time we stood up to the put-downs, the name callings and being corhearsed in the shadows of society.

We belong


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Comments (4)

  1. He’s a t**t of the highest order, Dermot! You belong and you would fit in anywhere! Your zest for life and justice is inspirational!

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