MP claims teaching unions care more about making Tories look bad than getting children back to school

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
Conservative MP Tom Hunt criticised teaching unions following the abandoned plans for all primary school pupils to return. (BBC)
Conservative MP Tom Hunt criticised teaching unions after the government abandoned plans for all primary school pupils to return. (BBC)

A Tory MP has accused teaching unions of caring more about making the government look bad than getting children back to school.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt, who sits on the House of Commons education committee, said unions have been “more motivated by scoring political points”.

Backbencher Hunt was speaking after the government shelved its plans for all primary school pupils to return on Monday.

It follows union opposition to the reopening of schools on safety grounds amid the coronavirus pandemic. This opposition stretches back to when Boris Johnson announced the first easing of the lockdown on 10 May.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 04: Children sit at individual desks during a lesson at the Harris Academy's Shortland's school on June 04, 2020 in London, England. As part of Covid-19 lockdown measures, Harris Academy schools have taught smaller pods of students, to help maintain social distancing measures. With restrictions now lifting and the Government encouraging schools to re-open, the school staff has been working to find the best way to provide extra spaces while still retaining the correct social distancing measures and cleanliness requirements. This week, some schools across England reopened for some students, with children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6 allowed to return first. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Some Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils returned to school last week, but the government has abandoned plans for other primary school year groups to join them. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Hunt, in an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, said the “government has done what it can” to get schools reopened and claimed unions were to blame.

He said: “Some of the largest teaching unions, such as the National Education Union [NEU], haven’t been particularly productive and positive in the discussions.

“Yes, COVID continues to pose a risk but there should have been a ‘can do’ attitude in terms of getting children back to school.

“The vast majority of those involved in the educational establishment are motivated by what’s in the best interest of the children.

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“But unfortunately, I’ve come to the conclusion that there does seem to be many people – particularly those involved in senior levels in the teaching unions – who frankly seem to be more motivated by scoring political points and throwing obstructions than they are of getting back as many children as possible to school.”

He added “many” teachers “have been let down by a number of senior union representatives”.

The NEU said in a statement responding to Hunt’s claims: “We asked the government to share the scientific evidence on which they were basing a wider return of schools and to meet some straightforward sensible tests such as ensuring adequate PPE in schools, the ability of schools to meet the government's social distancing rules and for tracking and tracing to be in place.

“Far from political point scoring, this was to ensure the best possible chance of containing the virus and protecting staff, children, families and the wider community.

“Parents clearly agreed and eventually so did the government, with their abandonment of a plan to bring all primary pupils back this term.”

Schools reopened for Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 pupils on Monday last week.

Speaking in the Commons on Tuesday, education secretary Gavin Williamson abandoned the plans for other year groups to return on Monday, citing practical difficulties around class sizes.

Williamson said the government now wants all primary and secondary schools to be open when the new academic year begins in September.

Responding to the news, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, had said: “It has taken the government some time to recognise what was obvious to most: the government’s social distancing rules made it impossible for primary schools to admit all pupils before the summer holidays.”

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