Toby Young has stepped down from his government-funded job as head of a charity supporting new free schools, blaming the pressure of media attention.
The journalist’s decision to leave the New Schools Network follows the controversy that erupted earlier this year when Young was appointed a director of the universities regulator, which catapulted his lurid comments on women and eugenics into the public spotlight.
Young’s resignation as chief executive of the NSN – for which he was paid ￡90,000 a year according to the charity’s accounts – came after the Guardian revealed the Department for Education’s reluctance to renew the charity’s grant while Young remained at its helm.
In spite of its reservations, the DfE is expected to renew the grant to the NSN, previously worth around ￡3m, after no other applicants responded to the department’s tender last month, leaving it with little choice.
In a statement posted on its website on Friday, the NSN said: “The trustees of New Schools Network announced that Toby Young has resigned. Toby has concluded that the media attention his continuing presence at the helm of NSN is attracting has become a distraction from the vital work it is doing and, for that reason, he has decided to step down.”
The trustees said it would announce a replacement “in due course,” and concluded: “The trustees are grateful for Toby’s work during his time here and wish him well in his future endeavours.”
The NSN did not respond to the Guardian’s inquiries about the DfE grant or Young’s status. A DfE spokesperson said: “The role of director is entirely a matter for New Schools Network’s trustees.”
Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, said: “In the light of the blatant cronyism we saw over Toby Young’s appointment to the board of the Office for Students, it was clear any money linked to the NSN needed to be properly scrutinised. I’m glad he has recognised his position has become toxic to the organisation.”
In his statement, Young paid tribute to the NSN’s staff. “NSN is a wonderful charity and it has been a great honour to serve as its director,” he said.
The move is Young’s third resignation since the new year, the first being his ill-fated appointment as a non-executive director of the Office for Students, the new higher education regulator.
The initial reaction centred on his past record of lewd comments about women, including their breasts. The controversy later widened to include controversial statements from his years as a provocative columnist for the Spectator and other publications.
Young also resigned as a director of the Fulbright Commission that oversees student scholarships between British and US universities.
But Young had hoped to hang on to his role at the NSN, a subject close to his heart after he successfully co-founded one of the first free schools in England, the West London free school, in 2011.
A former colleague of Young’s said: “Ultimately, the relationship between free schools and Toby was too close to be healthy. He was, certainly in his own view, Mr Free School. It is undoubtedly true that the programme achieved more with him behind it in the early days. Yet go forward eight years and it is also true that his presence is doing more harm than good to the wider free school movement.”
The NSN was intended to help guide local groups and parents through the DfE’s application process for opening free schools. But, in recent years, as the government’s enthusiasm waned, the majority of free school applications have come from existing multi-academy trusts which did not need the NSN’s help.
Meanwhile, the drive for local groups has faltered, with some at the DfE blaming Young and his predecessor, Nick Timothy, who was a former aide to Theresa May, for failing to appeal to parents eager to open free schools.
It is understood that the DfE is making cuts to the NSN’s grant to reflect the lower demand for its services, and will reduce funding for its Academy Ambassadors programme which had struggled to recruit qualified trustees to serve on the boards of multi-academy trusts.