A row broke out in the chamber at Nottinghamshire County Council over a Nottingham school’s decision to allow pupils to write a letter criticising Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Year six pupils from Welbeck Primary School in The Meadows penned the letter to Nottingham South MP Lilian Greenwood (Lab) in which Mr Johnson was branded a “hypocrite” amid controversy over ‘partygate’.
The letter, shared on the school’s Twitter page, has since caused a stir online and has led to condemnation from several Conservative politicians – including a Government minister.
The school says pupils wrote the letter after seeing a BBC Newsround bulletin discussing the Sue Gray report, published last week, which condemned several Downing Street parties during Covid lockdowns and restrictions.
Referring to the report, which listed 16 different alleged Downing Street and Whitehall gatherings, some of which are said to have been attended by Mr Johnson, the letter says: “This will now influence people to not listen to any new regulations and instead copy the footsteps of Boris Johnson.
“He is a hypocrite and can no longer be trusted as our leader and should resign as the country is not in the right hands.”
Now a row has broken out between Labour and Conservative members on Nottinghamshire County Council, with one Conservative councillor hitting out at what he described as left-wing “indoctrination”.
Speaking in the council’s policy committee on Thursday (February 10), Councillor Philip Owen (Con), who represents Nuthall and Kimberley, criticised the letter.
Cllr Owen, a former teacher and previous chairman of the children and young people’s committee, said: “This is the indoctrination of young children.
“I am appalled by it. To try and use young children to attack the Prime Minister and to attack the Government, I think, is absolutely appalling, and those involved should hang their heads in shame.
“I’m sick and tired of left-wing teachers trying to indoctrinate young people in schools. It’s time it was stopped.”
Cllr Tracey Taylor (Con), the current chairman of the children and young peoples’ committee, described Cllr Owen’s views as “very robust” and said she “wholeheartedly supports” his stance.
The school insists there was “no ‘teaching’ of politics”, with pupils encouraged to express their opinions and thoughts while learning the processes and structures of national politics.
And Labour councillors came out in support of the school during Thursday’s meeting.
Cllr Jim Creamer (Lab), who represents Carlton West, said: “They are not teaching left-wing or right-wing politics, they are asking what they thought of their politicians both local and national.
“If you don’t like the opinions of the children, who have got every right to those opinions, then we need to change our behaviour.
“But to actually go on and attack the integrity of individual schools, individual teachers and the opinions of children, is bloody outrageous.”
Cllr David Mellen (Lab), leader of Nottingham City Council, said the authority is “supportive” of Welbeck Primary School’s work and “would never discourage young people from engaging with local representatives and politicians”.
But Brendan Clarke-Smith (Con), MP for Bassetlaw, said the original tweet contained “overtly political messages”.
And Tom Randall (Con), Gedling’s MP, today called for an investigation to take place into the letter, saying in Parliament the children “appear to have been taught allegations as fact”.
But the school’s headteacher Rebecca Gittins has defended the school and outlined why the letter was penned.
She said: “There is no ‘teaching’ of politics. We explain processes and structure, with the children encouraged to express their thoughts.
“Year Six pupils watched recent coverage on Newsround about Downing Street and some of them asked to write to their local MP to share their views.
“This lesson was linked to the English curriculum where children constructed letters using their skills to form arguments, assess evidence and develop their critical thinking.”
The school has since deleted its Twitter page.