Teaching union hits back at Morecambe MP’s Daily Mail comments

David Morris.
David Morris.

Lancashire’s teaching union has hit back at claims by Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris that a headteacher tried to oust him from his seat.

Lancashire National Union of Teachers (NUT), said that “speaking the truth should not be a crime” in response to a Daily Mail article published on June 27. In it, Mr Morris accused Morecambe Bay Primary School headteacher Siobhan Collingwood of going on a “political crusade” in the run-up to the general election.

Siobhan Collingwood, third from left, with staff and comedian Julian Clary.

Siobhan Collingwood, third from left, with staff and comedian Julian Clary.

He told the Daily Mail: “Parents respect their head, so I am sure her views were taken into consideration when deciding which way to vote.

“It’s very unprofessional. She should remain impartial.

“She has a political agenda. I take exception to her politicising children in my constituency. It is an abuse of trust.”

Mr Morris had previously said cuts to school budgets were “a myth”.

Thousands of teachers, parents and schoolchildren had taken part in marches and demonstrations in Lancaster in the run up to the general election.

In April, 500 headteachers, including many from Lancaster and Morecambe, accused the government of lying about cuts to budgets, saying they will be forced to make staff redundant, cut subjects, increase class size and cut back on extracurricular activity.

Mr Morris retained his seat in the general election in June. His vote had increased, but his lead had reduced significantly.

The Daily Mail article was published just days after Mrs Collingwood’s school won the “Creative School of the Year”, following the school’s project which saw pupils launching a cuddly toy into space.

The Daily Mail suggested Mrs Collingwood was known locally as “Red Siobhan”, referred to her as “hard left”, and accused her of Tweeting inflammatory messages about government ‘cuts’.

The newspaper’s website Mail Online also said she used her public Twitter account to call Tory voters ‘sociopaths’, the Conservatives ‘the nasty party’ and likened Theresa May to a ‘dalek’.

She was also accused of breaching purdah rules, which apply to civil servants working in central and local government prior to elections.

Mrs Collingwood told the Daily Mail: “At no time did I act in breach of purdah. Any activities or views are purely personal and carried out in my own time.”

Sam Ud-din and Sarah Bedwell, joint division secretaries of Lancashire NUT said in a statement today: “The National Union of Teachers wants to express its unequivocal support for all local children, parents, teachers (at every level within schools) and governors who have been campaigning to defend education.

“We deplore the attack on both individuals and specific schools that have been made in some online reports recently.

“Responsible reporting should focus on the issues, not denigrate those seeking to stand up for our children.

“It’s wholly wrong to impugn the integrity of heads and teachers who are concerned about the devastating cuts their schools are facing.

“For this and previous governments, and any of their representatives, to try to use ‘purdah’ rules to stop every publicly employed person from speaking out coming up to any election is not acceptable.

“Everyone in education, the NHS and every other public-sector service would be silenced if some MPs had their way.

“The public is rejecting more and more the behind-the-scenes obstruction and intimidation that some MPs have resorted to, rather than the open and transparent engagement in public debate that we should expect from our representatives.

“If governments do not want schools to be politicised then they must cease making politically-biased decisions about them: about their structures, about what is taught, about how it’s taught, about how assessments are undertaken and used, about how staff are paid and judged.

“Any campaigning by local groups or individuals has focused on the acknowledged and very real damage done to our children by reducing the funds available to our schools and by squeezing the curriculum offer available. We can’t ignore these issues.

“Many letters from schools in dozens of local authorities across the country were referred to in a recent national online newspaper report.

“The last sentence of the report should have been the first ‘however, the institute for fiscal studies said rising student numbers and inflation would lead to real terms cuts’.

“School leaders are just telling parents these facts.

“Speaking the truth should not be a crime.”

Both Mr Morris and Mrs Collingwood have been contacted for further comment.