Send Government back to school to learn leadership, says heads’ leader

Paul Whiteman will say that a ‘failure of political leadership’ is making headteachers’ jobs harder.

28 April 2022

The leader of a headteachers’ union will tell members that it is a “pity” the Government cannot be sent back to school to learn about leadership.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT, will say at the union’s annual conference in Telford on Friday that “an absolute failure of political leadership” is making education harder for heads, teachers and pupils.

“School leadership is hard at the moment. It’s not simply the continuing Covid pressures, the continuing lack of funding, the high-stakes accountability, the quality of inspection, the recruitment and retention crisis, the long hours, or the lack of pay … it is also the absolute failure of political leadership,” he will say.

“The failure of an out-of-touch government is making the job of producing well-rounded young adults ready to play a full role in society so difficult.

“The basics taught in school are not how to write and how to count. The first things are self-regulation, good behaviour, decency, honesty and integrity, things that are hard to observe in the UK government right now,” he is expected to say.

He will add that he is not angry about the alleged parties in Westminster during lockdown, but that it is “unforgiveable” for the Prime Minister to mislead the public about what happened.

“In the scheme of things, the offence of having a glass of wine and a slice of cake is minor but for the prime minister of the county to mislead us about it repeatedly is unforgiveable and clearly in breach of the standards of our democratic institutions,” he will say.

Referring to comments made by Michael Fabricant MP, that teachers and nurses also enjoyed a quiet drink in staffrooms during the pandemic, he will say that this is “utter nonsense”.

Nigel Evans trial
Michael Fabricant MP made comments about teachers (Peter Byrne/PA)

“Anybody that knows anything about school realises they are places for children and therefore in contrast to Westminster there is not an alcohol culture throughout the school system,” he will say.

Mr Whiteman is also expected to raise concerns over the Government’s treatment of refugees, and how its new political impartiality bill for schools could limit discussion of some of these issues.

“Like the rest of us, young people see on the television every day the appalling scenes from the Ukraine. And before that the difficult scenes from Afghanistan and the difficult scenes from Syria,” he will say.

“They see refugees, desperate humans, arriving on our shores in rubber boats from France. And they also see the complete lack of compassion, the complete lack of humanity demonstrated by our government in the way we deal with these issues.”

He will add that young people “are not stupid” and that they also hear the “difficult debates about immigration”.

“But you are not allowed to teach young people about this in a balanced way. The rhetoric from government wants to portray you as trendy lefties that want to indoctrinate young people” he will say, adding that this is “utter tosh”.

“Teachers and school leaders will teach young people about how to interrogate these issues well and draw their own conclusions. They have been doing this well for years, and they will do it in a balanced way.”

“I’ve no doubt that, like me, many of you have watched on in horror at the bloodshed and destruction which continues to bring devastation to the people of Ukraine,” he will add.

“History will define governments on how they acted during such crises, and this administration’s hesitance in welcoming those affected by the war does not reflect the values of compassion, humanity and solidarity that I know many of you and your colleagues have shown when children from war-torn countries have joined your school.

“It’s a pity we can’t mandate our country’s leaders to go back to school, so you can teach them all a thing or two about leadership.”

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