The President of the National Union of Students and Kay Burley of Sky News have clashed over Toby Young quitting the new universities regulator, with the interview ending acrimoniously as the new watchdog was labelled “not fit for purpose”.
Shakira Martin appeared on the broadcaster after the journalist-turned-free schools advocate apologised for sexist and other offensive tweets and writings that had caused outrage as he stepped down from the Office for Students (OfS) board.
The 29-year-old has been championed as a replacement for Young, and had unsuccessfully applied for a position originally.
Martin argued on Sky that despite Young’s departure, the board has been “tarnished” and its composition does not represent students.
But the interview became awkward when Burley put forward the argument made by Young’s supporters.
Martin: “We need a board that is working in the interests of students with the skills and expertise required to be able to tackle things like student poverty and the black attainment gap.”
Burley: “Shouldn’t he be judged on his actions rather than silly schoolboy gags on Twitter?”
The journalist added that “people change” and that Young was “passionate about schools”.
Martin, though, was more anxious to talk about whether the regulator was “fit for purpose”, questioning the diversity of the board and whether it had the “skills and expertise ... to work in the interests of students”.
Burley suggested this was a “wider point” and had “nothing to do with Toby Young and his interests in a better education for our children”.
When Martin again tried to make an argument about debt being the biggest concern for students, Burley closed down the monologue, saying: “You have made your point.”
Burley went on to suggest Young had done his bit to help people get out of poverty and lead a “better life” by setting up several free schools that were an improvement on what existed where he lived and elsewhere.
“I am just shocked that the story is about Toby Young resigning,” responded Martin, clearly frustrated.
“That’s why we booked you to come on, to talk about Toby Young. You said yes,” came Burley’s response.