Sandi Toksvig: My school told my father I was not keeping up with lessons

Sandi Toksvig has said people should be cautious about how they judge the intelligence of others, as she revealed a school told her father she was not keeping up in lessons and would be better off studying agriculture.

The Great British Bake Off and QI star will present Channel 4 series Can I Improve My Memory? in which celebrities compete using memory hacks and techniques to fill up on facts and become experts in diverse subjects in a matter of weeks.

Toksvig, who got a first class degree from Cambridge, told the PA news agency: “One of the problems with education is that we tend to think there’s only one way to teach everybody and everybody ought to learn in exactly the same way. And it’s not the case.

British Academy Television and Craft Nominations Party – London
Sandi Toksvig (Ian West/PA)

“Just because somebody lands in a particular way – you’re particularly good with faces – that’s fantastic, that doesn’t make you clever or stupid as somebody else.

“And I think we tend to value things that are learnt in a written form – and one of the things we do know is that that kind of learning, that kind of academic learning, on the whole – and it’s a big generalisation – rewards the male brain better than the female brain – we have a slightly different way of processing information.

“I think we need to be careful how we judge other people’s intelligence, that we don’t simply decide that it’s based on what pieces of paper they were given out by various academic institutions.

“That’s not a good way of deciding whether somebody is clever or not.

“And one of the problems with that is that the person themselves, if they didn’t get a lot of qualifications, feels inclined to suggest to others that they’re not very bright.

“And in fact that’s often not the case. It’s to do with opportunity. It’s to do with the chances you’ve had in life.

“It’s to do with your circumstances – poverty or whatever. And I think it was yet another lesson – as if I needed one – to not judge people instantly, but to take my time.

“Everybody’s got surprising, hidden depths if you just give them a minute.

“When I was at a particular school that shall remain nameless, the headmistress suggested to my father that I wasn’t keeping up and that I should maybe think about going into agricultural school.

“My father laughed so much, he was crying in the office. And then when I got my first from Cambridge, he made me write to her to say that the agricultural college hadn’t really worked out for me. You never know, do you?”

Can I Improve My Memory? airs on July 15 at 8pm on Channel 4.