- The Daily Mail, which has campaigned for restrictions to be dropped through its editorials and other coverage for several weeks, has now turned its fire on the teachers’ unions. Over the last few days the Mail has run a vicious campaign against the unions, belittling their safety concerns about schools re-opening.
On Friday 15th May, the Mail used its frontpage to demand that teaching unions agree to drop their concerns about teachers’ and schoolchildren’s safety ahead of plans to reopen state schools. Yesterday, referring to an openly published video of the National Education Union discussing with members its position on school re-openings, its frontpage screams “Callous teacher union’s plotting exposed”. Further coverage has urged schools to re-open as proposed by Government.
- The Mail’s coverage has been misleading. It has, for example claimed that teachers “across the nation” are “desperate” to return to work without any evidence. On the contrary, polls suggest that only 5% of teachers think it is safe to reopen schools in England on 1st June. The leading representative organisations for teachers have argued for better protection for both children and teachers before the school term resumes. It is obviously sensible to listen to their concerns when forming policy.
Rhian*, a primary school teacher of 10 years, said:
“As a Primary School teacher I am hugged by at least 12 children by 9am some days, who have no concept of social distancing. I worry for their health, their family’s health and for my own husband – who has an underlying condition and must follow stringent social shielding rules. I thought the media would be fighting for us to get the protection we need, not bullying us back into work before it is safe.”
Instead of presenting the scientific arguments for and against opening schools – on the latter the teachers have the support of the doctors’ union, the BMA – the Mail resorts to bullying. It describes an openly published video of the NEU discussing its position as “plotting”. When an experienced teacher and union leader described her concerns that young children can be “mucky”, the Mail labels it a “smear”. Teaching unions prioritising the safety of their members and schoolchildren are denounced as “callous”. An open meeting among teachers is referred to as a “secret meeting”.
The arguments are complex and require careful debate. But when public health issues are involved the public need information, not rhetoric.
Jack*, a primary school teacher of 6 years based in Kent:
“It is sickening to see the Mail descend to the bullying of teachers and our representatives as it seeks to drive through the Government’s plans to re-open schools at the start of June. I joined a union because I know how often teachers can be scapegoated in newspapers. We care deeply about each and every one of our students, and work really hard to deliver for them as much as possible. To say otherwise is simply not true… we must follow the best route laid out by a global understanding of the disease, not fact-free Mail editorials.”
The Government should be listening to the science – not to their friends in the corporate press. But the closeness between government and the newspaper industry raises concerns that Government decision-making could be adversely influenced by newspaper owners and editors. Those concerns exist in relation to a range of issues, but are never more important than when they relate to a matter of public health.
In a healthy democracy, relationships between government and the press would be expected to be tense. Yet in the UK, they are often largely aligned and, on occasions such as this, appear to be working together to pursue a shared agenda.
This is one area that Part Two of the Leveson Inquiry would be in a position to investigate.
Until then, the Mail should abandon its aggressive rhetoric targeting teachers and engage with the evidence.
*All quotes are from real teachers. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Hacked Off Campaign. First names only have been used, to protect identities from the risk of press intrusion.