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A minister has defended Boris Johnson as someone who pupils “should learn about in schools” after the Government’s social mobility tsar said he was not a good role model for children.
Katharine Birbalsingh, who was appointed chair of the Social Mobility Commission (SMC) in 2021, told Sky News that although she likes the Prime Minister his behaviour makes her “raise an eyebrow”.
Responding to this on the same programme the next day, schools minister Robin Walker said children should be taught about Mr Johnson’s “phenomenal resilience” through the pandemic and praised his communication skills.
Ms Birbalsingh, who set up the high-achieving Michaela Community School in Brent, told Sky News the Prime Minister was “not professional enough”, citing his unruly hair.
When asked whether she considered Mr Johnson a good role model for children, Ms Birbalsingh said: “No, I don’t think so.
“I wish he could be but he isn’t and that is a bit sad.”
“I like Boris, I don’t think he’s a bad guy,” she added.
“I don’t know enough about what he’s got up to but I do not think that he is a good role model for children.
“The other day I saw a picture of him in the Metro and I looked at his hair and I thought – oh my goodness – we expect our children to have professional-looking hair.
“You might think that’s a bit pedantic and that’s a bit silly, but it isn’t actually.
“I think, for our children, it’s important to look professional.
“And sometimes Boris looks professional, but sometimes he’s not professional enough for me.”
Mr Walker said Ms Birbalsingh was “entitled to her opinion” but disagreed.
He said: “I think actually anyone who leads this country is a role model – someone that children can look up to.
“The Prime Minister has shown phenomenal resilience through the Covid pandemic and leadership, and I think that’s something that children should learn about in schools.
“He’s also a great communicator, and one of the things that we seek to teach in all of our schools is communication – literacy through great speech and language.
“So there’s plenty for people to look up to in that respect.”
When asked about Mr Johnson being fined for breaking his own lockdown rules, he added: “I think the Prime Minister has accepted the things for which he has apologised.
“And it’s quite right that he should do that in that respect as well.
“I think it’s important that children understand the importance of acknowledging when you’ve got things wrong.
“He’s also someone who has taken the big calls, taken great decisions in the long run and I think that’s why the party has been behind him when we had this vote of confidence earlier in the week.”
When asked about the remarks, a spokesman for Number 10 said: “I’m not going to get into individual comments.
“The public can see where the Prime Minister’s focus lies.”