Teachers complained about a lack of PPE so that “there was no excuse not to teach”, Gavin Williamson said in a leaked WhatsApp chat, later commenting that some teaching unions “really just doing hate work”.
In WhatsApp messages newly leaked by the Telegraph’s investigation, Williamson, who was the education secretary, told the then heath secretary, Matt Hancock, to unblock school requests for protective equipment if a child became ill at school. To help prepare for the reopening of classes. First lockdown.
Williamson said it was “basically as a last resort, so they can’t use that as a reason not to open. They all will, but some would just like to say they can’t, So they have an excuse to avoid teaching, what a pleasure!!!”.
Teaching unions, including the National Education Union, were deeply critical of the government’s approach to reopening schools and exams, including the furore over A-level results predicted by an algorithm.
In October 2020, Williamson publicly stated that next year’s exams would be postponed by a few weeks to make up teaching time. According to the leaked messages, Hancock then liaised with his cabinet colleague to say “what a bunch of complete assholes the teaching unions are”.
Williamson replied: “I know they really just hate the job.” Hancock then replied with a laughing emoji and a bullseye.
In a statement on Wednesday, Williamson said: “For further reports in the Telegraph and other outlets, I want to clarify that these messages were about certain unions and not teachers. As shown in the exchange Yes, I was reacting regarding unions.
“I have the utmost respect for teachers who work tirelessly to support students. During the pandemic, teachers went above and beyond during these very challenging times and continue to do so to a great extent.
Other revelations on Wednesday indicated Boris Johnson touted the possibility of “another U-turn” on face masks in schools after advisers said it was “not worth the argument” about why Scottish schools would enforce them in the classroom but not schools in England.
Hancock also reportedly said Number 10 did not want to change the “rule of six” for meetings to include children during lockdown, even though another minister said there was “no strong argument”.
Discussing the issue of face masks in schools in a WhatsApp group with the prime minister, Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said there were “no very strong reasons” but Johnson had consulted senior aides that he Will have difficulty communicating the difference.
The Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had already announced that children would be required to wear face coverings in the aisles. In a group chat, Johnson said: “Guys I’m gonna [be] Asked about masks in schools. Before we take another U-turn, may I consider whether they are necessary?
Two senior advisers explicitly warned against conflicting communication advice. His then director of communications, Lee Cain, said: “Scotland have just confirmed that I find it hard to believe that we’ll hold the line. At least I’ll flex myself and not commit to scrapping it … Plus we Why do some want to fight when there is no mask in a school setting.”
Simon Case, a senior official in Number 10 who would go on to become Johnson’s cabinet secretary, indicated that unless Whitty and the chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, “were prepared to go out and say the WHO and the Scots were wrong, I think There are bound to be some nervous parents.” It is happening in Scotland, but it is not happening in England.”
But Whitty conceded that “there were no strong reasons in corridors etc., and no very strong reasons for it”, and then added: “So agree not worth an argument.”
A day after the talks, the government announced that secondary school children in areas with higher lockdown rules would be required to wear face masks in corridors. This included parts of the North-West, Yorkshire and Leicester.
In October 2020, the rule of six policy was questioned by Helen Whatley, the minister for adult social care, who said she wanted to “loose [it] On children under the age of 12… it would make such a difference to families and there is no strong argument for it.
Hancock said that No. 10 “don’t want to go out there on this … even on curfew – they don’t want to shift an inch.” The rule of six – where gatherings of more than six people were against the law except in certain circumstances – remained in place during the rest of the pandemic, when no social mixing was allowed during the strict lockdown.
Whatley defended his former colleague in the Commons on Wednesday, saying “selective snippets” of leaked WhatsApp messages were misleading.
Hancock issued a furious response to the leak of his WhatsApp messages, which he had previously given to journalist Isabel Oakeshott to ghostwrite her book. Oakeshott, who is said to have signed an NDA, said he made them available to the Telegraph in the public interest.