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Education made harder by ‘absolute failure’ of an ‘out-of-touch government’, says school leaders’ union boss

Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary
Canvas Grimsby In Article Block

Speaking today at the Annual Conference of school leaders’ union NAHT, Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, will criticise the government for an ‘absolute failure of political leadership’ leading to a breakdown in trust for young people and education professionals.

“School leadership is hard at the moment. It’s not simply the continuing Covid pressures, the continuing lack of funding, the high-stakes accountability, the quality of inspection, the recruitment and retention crisis, the long hours, or the lack of pay… It is also the absolute failure of political leadership.

“The failure of an out of touch government is making the job of producing well rounded young adults ready to play a full role in society so difficult.

“The basics taught in school are not how to write and how to count. The first things are self-regulation, good behaviour, decency, honesty, and integrity. Things that are hard to observe in the UK government right now.

“I am not that angry that we all obeyed the rules at the most desperate of times while our leaders partied. In the grand scheme of things, the offence of having a glass of wine and a slice of cake is minor. But for the prime minister of the county to mislead us about it, repeatedly, is unforgiveable, and clearly in breach of the standards of our democratic institutions.

“If we cannot trust our leaders to tell the truth about cake, how can we trust that we will be told the truth about war? How can we trust that we will be told the truth about refugees, how can we trust that we will be told the truth about the economy, the progress of the pandemic… or the government’s ambitions for education.

“It matters because young people can see this playing out before their very eyes. And schools’ efforts to make sure young people understand the basics of self-regulation, good behaviour, decency, honesty, and integrity becomes so much more difficult against that backdrop.”

Mr Whiteman also criticised the government’s approach to dealing with refugees and immigrants, and rejected the government’s interference in how schools discuss these issues with pupils.

“Like the rest of us young people see on the television every day the appalling scenes from the Ukraine. And before that the difficult scenes from Afghanistan and the difficult scenes from Syria. They see refugees, desperate humans, arriving on our shores in rubber boats from France. And they also see the complete lack of compassion, the complete lack of humanity demonstrated by our government in the way we deal with these issues.

“Young people are not stupid; they also see and hear the difficult debates about immigration and are inquisitive. But you are not allowed to teach young people about this in a balanced way. The rhetoric from government wants to portray you as trendy lefties that want to indoctrinate young people. That is utter tosh! Teachers and school leaders will teach young people about how to interrogate these issues well and draw their own conclusions. They have been doing this well for years, and they will do it in a balanced way; I trust them to do that, government should trust them to do that.

“I’ve no doubt that, like me, many of you have watched on in horror at the bloodshed and destruction which continues to bring devastation to the people of Ukraine. History will define governments on how they acted during such crises, and this administration’s hesitance in welcoming those affected by the war does not reflect the values of compassion, humanity, and solidarity that I know many of you and your colleagues have shown when children from war torn countries have joined your school.

“It’s a pity we can’t mandate our country’s leaders to go back to school, so you can teach them all a thing or two about leadership.”

Mr Whiteman’s full speech is available on request.  He will address Conference at 4pm on Friday 29th April.  The event can be viewed via livestream at: https://www.naht.org.uk/conference2022.

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