Teachers say Gavin Williamson pandemic texts reveal ‘secret contempt’ teaching

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Teaching unions have reacted with fury to leaked texts sent by former education secretary Gavin Williamson at the height of the Covid pandemic, saying they expose the UK government’s “secret contempt for teachers”.

Paul Whitman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the exchange between Williamson and then Health Secretary Matt Hancock exposed the “chaos and duplicity at the heart of government”.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it showed a “appalling lack of respect for teachers” at a time of national emergency when unions were trying to engage constructively with the government.

In messages leaked to the Telegraph, Williamson appears to accuse teachers of looking for “excuses” to teach in the early stages of the Covid pandemic. In another WhatsApp exchange in October 2020, after Williamson announced the delay of exams for the following year, Hancock praised him for his “cracking announcement”, and said: “What a bunch of absolute asses from the teaching unions”. Is.”

Williamson replied: “I know they really just hate the job.”

The former education secretary faced heavy criticism for his handling of the Covid crisis in schools, especially the failure of the 2020 exams, and several embarrassing u-turns.

Barton said, “It was in complete disrepair and the two men involved in these appalling humiliations were at the center of that disrepair.” “We constantly had to check and sort out the scope of the confusing guidance they issued, and were often misdirected by bizarre policy decisions followed by an inevitable U-turn.”

The timing of this latest leak will not be helpful to the education department. It came as members of the National Education Union (NEU) in London and teachers in the south of England prepared to strike the latest day of industrial action in their long-running dispute with the government.

Commenting on the lockdown messages, Whitehouse said: “How can any trust develop when covert contempt for teachers and the teaching profession is exposed in this way? Let us not forget that COVID was rampant in the schools and the entire school community was managing the deadly risk in the most difficult of circumstances.

NEU joint general secretary Dr Marie Bousted defended the role of teachers and education staff during the pandemic, saying they worked tirelessly, listened to science and acted to protect the school community when the government was doing nothing.

“The government dragged its feet on providing laptops to children most in need, while footballer Marcus Rashford shamed them on free school meal provision during the school holidays. Evidence that could undermine the impact of Covid , which could have resulted in a widespread lockdown, were ignored, and they consistently belatedly briefed principals about the latest measures being imposed by the government on schools and colleges. This was nothing short of a shock,” she said .

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

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Bridget Philipson, the shadow education secretary, said the leaked comments were “a kick in the teeth” for teachers who magnified every sin 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 droves. Conservatives have shown us today how much they value our teachers.

Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, Munira Wilson, said: “Gavin Williamson was a disgraceful education secretary and these comments cement his place as one of the worst ministers to grace government in history.”

Schools minister Nick Gibb attempted to defend Williamson. He told LBC: “Gavin’s own wife is a primary school teacher – I’ve worked with Gavin for two years; I know he holds teachers in the highest regard. All of us teachers in government need to be supported during the pandemic.” And give the highest respect even in normal times.People say things on WhatsApp spur of the moment which they don’t really believe.

On unions he said: “I think they work hard for their members. I wish they were with us to negotiate pay and all the other issues we want to talk about with teachers’ unions, so We would not be doing the strikes in London and the South East today.”

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.

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