From education to employment

A Letter to Nadhim Zahawi MP

Education Secretary, Nadhim Zahawi

Dear Nadhim,

I am writing regarding the comments made by your colleague, Michael Fabricant MP, as part of a BBC television interview on 12 April. 

During that interview, Mr Fabricant suggested that during the national lockdown, teachers and school staff “tended to go back to the staff room for a quiet drink” at the end of a day.

This suggestion is wholly inaccurate and deeply insulting to the teaching profession. I cannot overstate the hurt and anger these comments have caused. 

As you will already know, during the national lockdowns, school leaders followed government guidelines meticulously. In fact, you have praised them for doing so. In reality, this meant that most teachers kept to small ‘bubbles’ and were not able to interact with other staff members across the school, many had to eat lunch alone in their own classrooms. School leaders restricted access to their staff rooms, and in some cases closed them entirely. 

Throughout the pandemic, school leaders and other educational professionals have worked tirelessly to implement ever-changing government guidance and to keep all members of their community safe. They supported the most vulnerable, ensured that children were fed and effectively reinvented how education was delivered in a matter of weeks. The demands placed on them were enormous, as you know. 

These latest comments by Mr Fabricant have done enormous damage and are entirely unjustified. 

I assume that given your knowledge of what actually happened in schools during the national lockdowns, that you will be looking to set the record straight publicly and to address what is frankly a slur on the teaching profession. 

I look forward to hearing from you on this matter in due course. I have also written directly to Mr Fabricant asking him to substantiate these claims or to retract them immediately. I include a copy of that letter for your information. 

Yours sincerely,

Paul Whiteman
General Secretary, NAHT

Sector Response to comments made by Michael Fabricant, MP

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

“Michael Fabricant’s attempt to defend the indefensible actions of the Prime Minister and Chancellor are as insulting as they are offensive.

“Teachers, nurses and the vast majority of the British public followed the rules set by Boris Johnson and his Government. NEU members have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to keep the education system running and will be furious at this attempt to tar them with the same brush as law breakers in Downing Street.”

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

“We will be writing today to Michael Fabricant MP to formally complain about his comment in an interview on the BBC in which he suggested that the Prime Minister’s fine for breaking lockdown laws was similar to teachers and nurses during the pandemic going back to the staff room and having a drink.

“Mr Fabricant’s remark is both factually incorrect and insulting. Unlike what seems to be the case in Downing Street, alcohol is not a feature of the working day in schools, and teachers do not drink in staff rooms.

“During the pandemic, many staff rooms were in fact closed in order to avoid mixing and the risk of transmission of coronavirus. Schools were asked by the government to follow a strict set of Covid rules which they diligently implemented and abided by in order to try to minimise the disruption to education and protect staff and students. The guidance which was set by government was copious, confusing and constantly changing, but they did their very best to make sense of it nevertheless.

“Like the rest of the public, education staff are dismayed by the behaviour of the Prime Minister and others in Downing Street in breaking their own rules because it is a clear case of double standards.

“For Mr Fabricant to now erroneously suggest that teachers and nurses were also breaking lockdown rules adds insult to injury. We are aware that the Royal College of Nursing has also written to Mr Fabricant. We would urge him to apologise and withdraw his comment.”

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