It’s true I feel passionate about the education of our children; that’s why I get angry when Toby Young spouts his ignorant nonsense…

So it’s late at night, I’m not feeling that well, and I’m asked by the BBC to comment on Michael Gove’s proposals to return to O Levels with Toby Young. He and I do have ‘history’; whenever he takes a chance, he has a pop at me. Furthermore, Gove’s proposals about returning to O Levels do really worry me. I felt drowned out by Toby’s irrelevant drivel about England slipping down the world league tables; this — this simply wasn’t the topic for discussion and yet it was the only thing he was able to talk about — and wanted to stress the point that returning to  O Levels will be a disaster if it happens. I am particularly concerned about right-wingers like Michael Gove and Toby holding up Singapore as a shining example of good practice when we all now that it is what one might politely call an “autocratic” state but, as I say on air, it could be more accurately described as a fascist one; dissenting voices are regularly silenced, and you can get jailed for very minor infringements of the law. The education system there clearly is there to prop up what is a corrupt regime; it may be very nice to visit as a tourist, but living there is clearly another matter entirely. Of course, if we had a fascist state here, we almost certainly would get better exam results than we currently do, but fortunately, we live in a democracy where you’re allowed to air your views and express your emotions without the fear of being carted off by the secret police. Children here have to learn to negotiate and deal with the freedoms they have partly in school; we no longer can beat children or imprison them for minor misdemeanours. This is as it should be. I still stand by the points I was making on the BBC news channel about O Levels being a totally inadequate exam and don’t, at this point, feel that bad about my “robust” delivery. Some people liked it, others hated it; whatever you think, it makes for quite lively TV. But I notice that the right-wing are after me on this one; I’ve even got Guido Fawkes and the Toadmeister himself blogging about me! I made no personal remarks, I was just trying to stick to the argument; my tone, yes, was an angry one, but I feel passionate about this issue and feel that dissenting voices are being drowned out in the media. Especially, the voices of teachers. The relentless attack on our profession is utterly depressing and I feel totally demoralised by them; yes, I do feel angry, very angry at this miserable government’s policies and all of its cheerleaders for relentlessly saying that we’re rubbish. Can you give us a break? I represent no organisation, I’m certainly no hired ‘union’ hand and certainly wouldn’t describe myself as left wing; as Guido Fawkes says I once sent my child to a private school and I supported my local school becoming an academy. What worries me the most at the moment is the way we assess our children; GCSEs could be so much better and do need to be stripped down. Personally, I think teacher-assessment would be much better at 16; teachers are best placed to assess the whole child, not just the very narrow range of skills that GCSEs assess; O Levels, without the coursework element or the assessment of things like speaking and listening skills, are far, far narrower than our existing GCSEs. We need give the power to teachers to assess how our children are doing in all spheres: their problem-solving skills, their initiative, their ability to come up with new ideas, their creativity. This is best done within the context of the classroom and in a “non-threatening” atmosphere so that these assessments can be used to improve a child’s skills. This is what the Finnish do, and have the top performing education system in the world as a consequence.


Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing ( which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network,, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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2 thoughts on “It’s true I feel passionate about the education of our children; that’s why I get angry when Toby Young spouts his ignorant nonsense…”

  1. Well done Francis! Someone has got to explain to these people that their ideas are ludicrous. I don’t imagine they would be telling doctors or lawyers how they need to do their job, yet just because they went to school they feel they have the qualifications to ignore professors of education for their own crazy reforms. It is absurd.

    I have been following your writing all the way from Oz, having taught for 8 years in Newham. Thank you for voicing such important opinions. Keep up the great work.

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