Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Magazine article The Spectator

Status Anxiety: Toby Young

Article excerpt

I had the unusual experience last Sunday of appearing on a panel to defend free speech having been the victim of censorship 24 hours earlier. As Claire Fox, the chair of the event, said: 'We are lucky enough to have our very own free speech martyr on the panel.'

Martyr is putting it a bit strongly, but I was 'no platformed' as a result of expressing a verboten point of view. What made it quite upsetting is that the organisation responsible was Teach First, an education charity that aims to recruit top university graduates into teaching and which I have always supported. Indeed, it is because I am sympathetic to Teach First's aims -- it wants to make the school system of England and Wales fairer by deploying excellent teachers to deprived areas -- that I agreed to speak at its annual conference and write a blog post for its website.

Now, it is fair to say that my blog, which was published on October 26, will not have made for comfortable reading for those who believe that schools can redress all the inequalities that are outside their control. I pointed out that the strongest single predictor of how well children do in their GCSEs is IQ, with differences in children's general cognitive ability accounting for more than half of the variance in exam results. That's a finding that has been replicated numerous times. I also pointed out that schools have enjoyed little success when it comes to raising the IQs of individual students, but I allowed that they may discover how to do so, particularly with the aid of new technologies.

No reason that should lead to doom and gloom for educationalists. While it is true that children's genes account for between 60 and 70 per cent of the variance in GCSE results, with IQ responsible for about half that genetic influence, that still leaves the environment accounting for 30 to 40 per cent. A consistent finding in the literature is that the differences between schools, such as the amount of resources a school receives, the number of children in a class, the quality of the teachers etc, accounts for around 10 per cent or less of the variance in exam results. Admittedly, 10 per cent is not huge, but it is not nothing, either. Schools can still make a difference -- and that 10 per cent is an aggregate figure, with some schools having more impact. …

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