From education to employment

Texts Revealed: Teachers looking for ‘excuse’ not to work during pandemic

Texts revealed by the Telegraph show a battle between ministers over Covid and closing schools during lockdown.

Education secretary and Matt Hancock also hit out at unions at time when Government was praising efforts of school staff

Sector Response

Liberal Democrat Spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said: 

“Gavin Williamson was a disgraceful Education Secretary and these comments solidify his place in history as one of the worst Ministers ever to grace Government. 

“At the very least Gavin Williamson should apologise for these comments.

“The most shocking thing about Williamsons’ catalogue of failures is that Rishi Sunak believes this person was still fit to serve in Government.”

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said:

“This ugly exchange demonstrates the chaos and duplicity at the heart of government. How can any trust develop when the secret contempt for teachers and the teaching profession is laid bare like this. We must not forget Covid was rampant in schools and the whole school community was managing life threatening risk in the most difficult of circumstances.”

Geoff Barton, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said:

“This sneering exchange between two Cabinet ministers at a time of the greatest national emergency since the second world war shows an appalling lack of respect for teachers. Education unions, including our union, worked incredibly hard to engage constructively with the government throughout the pandemic. We constantly had to sense-check and disentangle the reams of confused guidance they issued, and were often wrong-footed by bizarre policy decisions which were then followed by an inevitable U-turn. It was an absolute shambles and the two individuals involved in these snide insults were at the heart of that shambles.”

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, said: 

“Teachers and education staff worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic and there was never a time when they were not working. The education unions listened to the science and acted to protect the school community when the Government was doing neither. Government dragged their feet over providing laptops for children most in need, while it took the footballer Marcus Rashford to shame them into Free School Meals provision during the school holidays. Evidence that could have curbed the impact of Covid, resulting in wider lockdowns, was ignored, and they gave consistently late information to head teachers on the latest measures being imposed by Government on schools and colleges. It was nothing short of a shambles.

“The Education Secretary was clearly out of his depth and, we now hear, contemptuous of unions and teachers.  Given the current dispute with the Department for Education over teacher pay, we sincerely hope Gillian Keegan does not share this attitude and gets around the table to discuss a resolution to the pay dispute.”

Bridget Phillipson MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, said: 

“These comments are a kick in the teeth for teachers who stretched every sinew for children during the pandemic. 

“They add insult to injury at a time when fewer people are joining the profession, and when teachers are leaving classrooms in their droves. 

“The Conservatives have shown us today exactly how much they value our teachers. Labour will always value the incredible work all school staff do.”

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