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Toby Young
Friday 27th October 2017

Why I believe Teach First was wrong to censor my views


I recently took part in a panel discussion at a Teach First conference and wrote a blog post for their website about the relative impact of nature and nurture on children's attainment. The theme of the conference was social mobility and what schools can do to boost it and my post was one of two, with an alternative point of view being given by Sonia Blandford, Dean of Education at Canterbury Christ Church University College and founder of Achievement For All. The two posts were billed as a debate and it was clear that neither point of view reflected those of Teach First.

Yesterday, Teach First decided to take both posts down and in their place published an apology for having published my piece in the first place. "It was against what we believe is true and against our values and vision," Teach First explained.

I am astonished by this decision. Surely, the fact that Teach First does not agree with my views is not a reason for removing the post, particularly as it appeared in the context of a debate and was posted alongside a rebuttal by a distinguished educationalist? If Teach First disapproved of my views so strongly, why publish the piece in the first place? They could have turned it down and I would have simply published it elsewhere. But to publish it and then un-publish it smacks of censorship. Why they felt a need to apologise for having temporarily published it is a mystery.

I am disappointed by this reaction, to put it mildly, not least because I share Teach First's values and vision. In my blog post, I attempted to show how educationalists could remain committed to raising standards for all children, particularly the most disadvantaged, without denying the mainstream scientific understanding about the heritability of IQ and the impact of IQ on educational outcomes. Teach First's reaction and its branding of my piece as "against what we believe is true" suggests they don't share my belief that its values are compatible with mainstream science. That is an unwise position for any educational organisation to take, particularly one that prides itself on being guided by scientific evidence.

I intend to write at more length about this episode for the Spectator. In the meantime, you can read my original piece here and Sonia Blandford's piece here.

A couple of further points. I took a good deal of trouble to summarise the science accurately in my piece. I discussed it with two leading academics in the field before writing it and subsequently showed it to two more after I'd written a first draft. They suggested some small amendments to my summary of the science and I incorporated them into the final version. The science may be against what Teach First believes to be true – and no doubt what many educationalists would like to be true – but that doesn't make it untrue. Having said that, there are some eminent social scientists who believe it is possible to raise children's IQ, something I claim in my piece hasn't yet been achieved, at least not in a way that is easily replicable. A good summary of the alternative viewpoint, and the evidence to support is, is provided by Richard E Nesbitt here. This series of posts by David Didau is a good introduction to the whole topic.

I am fascinated by this subject and if there is one thing I regret about my piece it is not being clearer about the fact that our scientific understanding of what schools can and cannot achieve is not settled and, like a lot of science, is in a state of constant development. So if anyone would like to contribute to this debate, please send me your responses and if they are suitably well-informed I will publish them here.

UPDATE: Quillette has published a piece about the whole affair here.

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