An education sector leader has written to the government over the behaviour of a new education minister caught on camera swearing at protesters.
Video footage of Andrea Jenkyns, a key Boris Johnson ally, putting her middle fingers up to crowds outside Downing Street on Thursday before the PM’s resignation has been widely shared online, prompting questions about her appointment.
Today, Dame Alison Peacock, the chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, revealed she had written to the DfE to “remind education ministers” of the Nolan Principles, or seven principles of public life.
They state that holders of public office should “exhibit these principles in their own behaviour and treat others with respect”.
“Our profession abides by these principles as part of our teacher standards,” said Peacock this morning.
The standards state that teachers must “demonstrate consistently the positive attitudes, values and behaviour which are expected of pupils” and establish a “safe and stimulating environment for pupils, rooted in mutual respect”.
In a section of her email to DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood, shared with Schools Week, Peacock said: “I understand that these are tense uncertain times in politics.
“But to proceed with a ministerial appointment of someone who is unable to abide by the principles of public life is sinking to a new low.”
Others have questioned whether her behaviour meets the ministerial code, which requires ministers to maintain “high standards of behaviour and to behave in a way that upholds the highest standards of propriety”.
Ministers should also “be professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect”.
Jenkyns tweeted today that a ”baying mob outside the gates were insulting MPs on their way in as is sadly all too common”.
She said people there had directed “huge amounts of abuse” at her over the past years. She said she has had seven death threats in the last four years – two of which are being investigated by police.
Jenkyns said this meant she ”had reached the end of my tether. I responded and stood up for myself. just why should anyone have to put up with this sort of treatment.
“I should have shown more composure but am only human.”
Unions write to express ‘grave concern’
Bosses of the NAHT and ASCL school leaders’ unions, the National Education Union and Unison, which represents school support staff, have written to Jenkyns to express “grave concern at the footage of you making an obscene gesture to crowds outside Downing Street last week”.
They said they had read her statement, but warned that “explanations such as this from politicians are no longer good enough”.
“As role-models, politicians are increasingly falling short of the standards expected of them. Your words would certainly not be an acceptable excuse from a pupil or member of staff in a school or college.
“We believe you should publicly acknowledge the impact that your loss of composure is likely to have on the ability of education teams to maintain common decency in schools.”
Headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh, the government’s social mobility chair, said: ”I said a few weeks ago that Boris Johnson was not a good role model for kids.
“I had no idea how bad it could get.”
Tories blast behaviour of new minister
Other politicians, including members of Jenkyn’s own party, have also criticised her conduct.
Sharing the video on Twitter, fellow Conservative MP and former minister George Freeman said ministers “should set the highest standards in office”.
“I’m sorry but this is appalling conduct for a minister of the Crown. This is exactly why we need a new prime minister: to restore the ministerial code & respect for the responsibilities of service in public office.”
Shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson said ministers “aren’t expected to be perfect”.
“But is it really too much to ask that they don’t treat the public like this?”
Even the leader of the House of Commons, Mark Spencer, told BBC Breakfast he did not condone her actions, saying Jenkyns would have to “justify that for herself”.
“I do understand emotions were running pretty high and they were pretty raw on that day. But I don’t think that was the right thing to do at all.”
The DfE was approached for comment.