Teacher lockdown drinks claim ‘deeply insulting’

Heads ‘and teachers’ leaders have hit out at “deeply insulting” and “wholly inaccurate” claims by Conservative MP Michael Fabricant that teachers drank in staffrooms while Covid restrictions were in place.

In a letter to education secretary Nadhim Zahawi today, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said he could not “overstate the hurt and anger” caused by the comments.

Mr Whiteman has also written to Lichfield MP Mr Fabricant asking him to substantiate the claims, or retract them, after he told BBC News yesterday that he knew of nurses and teachers who went for a “quiet drink” after shifts while being questioned about the police decision to fine prime minister Boris Johnson for breaking Covid restriction rules.

Mr Fabricant’s comments were made in reaction to Prime Minister Boris Johnson being fined for attending a birthday party thrown for him during a Covid lockdown.

In his letter, Mr Whiteman said that, during the national lockdowns, “school leaders followed government guidelines meticulously” and that most “were not able to interact with other staff members across the school”.

He added: “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.”

Also reacting to the comments, Dame Alison Peacock, CEO of the Chartered College of Teaching, said in a statement published on social media that teachers had “followed the rules to the letter” throughout the pandemic and that any suggestion otherwise showed a “complete lack of knowledge of the profession” and should be “retracted”.

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) said this morning that it also plans to write to Mr Fabricant over his “incorrect” and “insulting” comments.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the ASCL, said that “alcohol is not a feature of the working day in schools, and teachers do not drink in staff rooms… unlike what seems to be the case in Downing Street.”

He added: “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 minimize 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 behavior 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 apologize and withdraw his comment.”

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said the attempt to defend the “indefensible actions of the prime minister and chancellor” were “as insulting as they are offensive”.

The reaction from heads ‘and teachers’ leaders comes after the Royal College of Nursing wrote a letter to Mr Fabricant yesterday to tell him his comments were “demoralizing” and “factually incorrect”.

Mr Fabricant was speaking after a No 10 spokesperson revealed that Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak would be issued with fines for breaches of Covid-19 regulations following allegations of lockdown parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.

The fines are part of an investigation into parties held in Downing Street and across Whitehall during Covid lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

Some of these events took place while schools were closed to the majority of pupils.

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