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Status anxiety

Status Anxiety: A lesson in satire

Toby Young suffers from Status Anxiety

26 February 2011

12:00 AM

26 February 2011

12:00 AM

You have to take your hat off to Michael Gove. In spite of the Herculean task he has saddled himself with — saving the state education system of this country — he has managed to find time to produce a brilliant piece of satire. I’m referring to a blog on the Local Schools Network entitled ‘Celebrating diversity at Stoke Newington School’.

The Local Schools Network is a website that exists primarily to disseminate smears and lies about free schools. It boasts the patronage of Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn, but by far its most energetic contributor is Francis Gilbert, a media studies teacher in Bethnal Green. Gilbert has devoted himself, body and soul, to frustrating the efforts of parents and teachers to set up schools.

Last week, a post appeared on the site that purported to be by someone called ‘Henry Stewart’, but I’m almost certain this is a pseudonym. The real author, I’m convinced, is none other than the Secretary of State for Education. His aim, clearly, is to point up the extent to which state education has been hijacked by the loony left.

‘It is LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender) week at Stoke Newington School,’ it begins. ‘The whole of Year 8 has spent the day creating banners and other materials and this afternoon the whole year, over 200 students, walked round the local park displaying their messages.’

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. The very idea that a group of 12-year-old schoolchildren would be dragooned into ‘creating banners and other materials’ to promote LGBT week is preposterous. How many ‘transgendered’ pupils could there possibly be at a comprehensive in Stoke Newington? It stretches credulity to breaking point. Satire is supposed to cut like a scalpel, not a butcher’s knife. This is too over the top to be effective. All I can say, dear reader, is that you are clearly unfamiliar with the crazy excesses of contemporary state education. Believe me, it is all too plausible.

The Secretary of State, masquerading as ‘Henry Stewart’, goes on to describe the school’s ‘annual LGBT celebratory concert’. ‘Now concerts at Stoke Newington School are always great events, with the students enthusiastically cheering each other on and showing huge support even when their colleagues get things wrong,’ he writes. ‘But tonight was especially inspiring and moving.’

You have to admire Gove’s ability to capture the ghastly jargon of the state system. Note the use of the words ‘students’ and ‘colleagues’ as if to acknowledge the fact that we’re talking about children would be to disrespect them in some peculiar way. And, of course, the Secretary of State can’t resist a little dig at the all-must-win-prizes philosophy that has made any recognition of excellence absolutely taboo in our state schools, with the ‘students’ ‘enthusiastically cheering’ and ‘showing huge support’ regardless of how feeble the efforts of their ‘colleagues’ are.

The ‘celebratory concert’ concludes with the appearance of some female rugby players: ‘The Head of PE presented six members of the girls’ rugby team, some of whom play for Middlesex, and talked about how the school’s first LGBT week had led him to challenge stereotypes in sport.’

You can just picture the wretched PE teacher, forced to stand up in front of the whole school and thank the Leadership Team and Governing Body for ‘enlightening’ him about the needs of the school’s lesbian population. It’s reminiscent of the ‘confessions’ that Chinese intellectuals were forced to make during the Cultural Revolution to avoid being carted off to ‘re-education’ camps. Clearly, if Michael Gove ever retires from politics he has a career ahead of him as the writer of a sitcom about an inner-London comprehensive: Citizen Smith meets Grange Hill.

He concludes this wonderful send-up with a eulogy to his imaginary school. ‘This was a local community school at its absolute best,’ he writes. ‘It was a celebration of diversity and a call to support all our students for who they are, and for all of us to be proud of who we are. Banners round the hall, made by the students, carried messages like “No matter who we are, we are all human” and “Some people are gay. Get over it”.’

Well done, Michael. Your journalistic talents clearly haven’t deserted you. It is you, isn’t it? This ‘Henry Stewart’ fellow, he’s not actually real, is he? No. It’s unimaginable. Even in Stoke Newington, the left-wing nutters can’t have penetrated the state education system to quite this extent.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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