Allison Flood, "Academics chastised for bad grammar in letter attacking Michael Gove", The Guardian 5/3/2013:
It was a blistering attack on Michael Gove for eroding educational standards and "dumbing down" teaching. But now the 100 academics who wrote an open letter in March criticising the education secretary's revised national curriculum have had their own accuracy questioned. Their letter has been dubbed "simply illiterate" by the judges of the inaugural Bad Grammar awards.
The professors, from universities including Nottingham Trent, Leeds Metropolitan, Oxford and Bristol, had warned that Gove's national curriculum proposal meant children would be forced to learn "mountains of detail" for English, maths and science without understanding it. But according to the Idler Academy Bad Grammar awards, they made a string of grammatical blunders including using adjectives as adverbs and mixing singulars with plurals.
I haven't been able to locate the text of the Idler's critique, but Flood's article quotes two specific grammatical complaints.
Gwynne, author of Gwynne's Grammar, highlighted a particular paragraph from the academics' letter for criticism:
"Much of it demands too much too young. This will put pressure on teachers to rely on rote learning without understanding. Inappropriate demands will lead to failure and demoralisation. The learner is largely ignored. Little account is taken of children's potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity."
Gwynne's attack opened with a consideration of the phrase "demands too much too young".
"Presumably they mean something like 'demands too much when children are too young to be ready for so much', but, as worded, it simply is not English," he said. "In that sentence as worded, 'too young' can only be two adverbs, 'too' qualifying the adverb 'young', and 'young' qualifying the verb 'demands', as would, for instance, 'soon' or 'early'. But 'young' is an adjective, and cannot ever be an adverb. And it certainly is not doing the work of an adjective in that sentence, because there is no noun that could be 'understood' and which would turn that sentence into English."
The phrase in question is a classical allusion, referencing The Specials' 1979 song "Too Much Too Young":
In the lyric, "(much) too young" is (I guess) in apposition associated with the subject "you":
You've done too much
much too young
Now you're married with a kid
when you could be having fun with me
In the professors' letter, "too young" presumably modifies an understood third-person plural pronoun "… demands too much (of them) too young". For more on floating adjectives, see "Amid this vague uncertainty, who walks safe?", 2/23/2007. In any case, the meaning is clear enough, and I wouldn't have noticed the structural issue if Gwynne hadn't brought it up.
Gwynne was also disturbed by the academics' statement: "Little account is taken of children's potential interests and capacities, or that young children need to relate abstract ideas to their experience, lives and activity."
"In the second clause, 'Little account is taken' is understood before the words 'that young children need'," he said. "But there is no such verb as 'to take account' but only 'to take account of' as in the first clause of that sentence. The second clause of the sentence is simply illiterate."
This is a fair criticism: the implied structure is "little account is taken of NP1 or NP2", except that instead of a second noun phrase, the constituent after "or" is a that-clause. But "simply illiterate"? This is not the sort of thing that marginally-illiterate people do — it's something that tends to happen in complex writing when the sense dominates the structure, something characteristic of writers who are especially fluent readers.
For the judges' likely motivation, see Michael Moran, "The bad grammar award: a superior kind of prize", The Guardian 5/3/2013":
It's no great surprise that the autodidact Nevile Gwynne was on the judging panel – the poor man has been the victim of myriad Restoration-themed spelling errors. However, you may have discerned a slight political subtext when you learned that the panel also included the free school evangelist Toby Young and the rightwing journalist Harry Mount.
I note in passing that The Idler's "About" page displays a nice back-formation, "art directed":
The Idler is an annual periodical that campaigns against the work ethic and promotes liberty, autonomy and responsibility. It is edited by Tom Hodgkinson. It was founded in 1993 by Tom and Gavin Pretor-Pinney. The Idler is now published as a high quality hardback book, which is typeset by Christian Brett and art directed by Alice Smith.
But the magazine's "Freedom Manifesto" makes me wonder why they're so eager to defend a government-mandated National Curriculum — and why they didn't recognize "Too Much Too Young":