Hancock plotted to get schools to shut
THE former health secretary came under fire yesterday after WhatsApp messages showed him plotting a ‘ rearguard action’ to undermine efforts to keep schools open during the pandemic.
Anne Longfield, a former children’s commissioner, said Matt Hancock’s attitude showed youngsters were ‘always down the pecking order’ in the health crisis.
The then health secretary was involved in a bitter clash with then education secretary Gavin Williamson over the latter’s wish to keep pupils in class in late 2020, according to the messages.
The Daily Telegraph highlighted an exchange between Mr Hancock and an aide after Sir Gavin told Boris Johnson that schools in England should reopen as planned at the start of January 2021.
He mocked Sir Gavin, saying he had ‘to turn the volume down’ when his fellow Cabinet minister spoke. After Sir Gavin apparently won over then prime minister , Mr Hancock wrote: ‘I want to find a way, Gavin having won the day, of actually preventing a policy car crash when the kids spread the disease in January. And for that we must now fight a rearguard action.’
In the event, after many younger children had returned to classes for a single day in January, the Government announced that schools would close immediately with exams cancelled. The staggering U-turn led to Sir Gavin being accused of incompetence. Reacting to the disclosures, Mrs Longfield told BBC Radio 4 that there was no ‘ understanding of the impact that staying at home’ would have on children and that they were ‘always down in the pecking order of decision making, which didn’t happen in other countries’.
She said Mr Hancock’s messages showed ‘that children were at best being forgotten often in decisionmaking but at worst potentially overlooked’. Mrs Longfield added: ‘There was always another priority. Children are living with those consequences now.’
The messages revealed that Mr Hancock called teaching unions ‘a bunch of absolute arses’ for their reaction to a plan to delay exams.
Sir Gavin replied: ‘I know they really really do just hate work.’ Mr Hancock posted laughing emojis and a bullseye. Yesterday Sir Gavin said he had not been criticising teachers but only ‘some unions’.
‘Always another priority’