Toby Young Toby Young

Status Anxiety: Here endeth the lesson

One of the most depressing things about being a journalist is that 99 per cent of your work goes unnoticed. You pour your heart and soul into a piece, congratulate yourself on having produced something rather good for once, then wait for the plaudits to start rolling in. Six months later, you’re still waiting. It’s like dropping a stone into a well and not even having the satisfaction of hearing it go plop. Except it’s not a stone — it’s your whole career.

Occasionally, though, something you write attracts attention, and it’s often completely random. For instance, I wrote a column for this magazine last year that is still the subject of intense debate ten months later. Headlined ‘A lesson in satire’, it was a response to a blogpost on an anti-free schools website about LGBT week at Stoke Newington School. (For those of you who don’t know, LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered.) The author, Henry Stewart, is a co-founder of the site in question as well as being the school’s chair of governors and his piece was a misty-eyed account of how proud he was that the whole of Year 8 had spent a day making banners and posters and marching up and down Stoke Newington High Street displaying them.

The conceit of my column was that this blogpost was a brilliant piece of satire and its real author was not ‘Henry Stewart’ — clearly an invented persona — but Michael Gove. My point was that taking a group of 12- to 13-year-olds out of lessons for a day and getting them to create materials promoting LGBT week seemed a good illustration of what had gone wrong with state education under New Labour. I was not condemning Stoke Newington School for trying to inculcate one particular set of political values rather than another.

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