The education secretary has accused others of having “sat on their arse” over the RAAC crisis in schools, and expressed frustration at a lack of gratitude that she had been doing a “f***ing good job”.
Gillian Keegan was still on microphone when she made the comments shortly after an interview with ITV News, which has since circulated the clip on social media.
The government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the presence of “crumbly” reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in schools, a problem it has known about for years.
Today saw Keegan give her first interviews since more than 100 schools were ordered last week to close buildings to pupils over safety fears. It has been reported she was on holiday in Spain last week.
With the cameras still running, Keegan asked her interviewer: “Does anyone ever say, you know what, you’ve done a f***ing good job because everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing? No signs of that? No?”
Keegan ‘frustrated’ over questionnaire delays
The clip has prompted speculation on social media that she could have been referring to previous ministers, governments, schools or councils.
In a subsequent interview, Keegan said she “wasn’t really talking about anyone in particular”, and apologised for using “choice” language.
But she appeared then to blame schools and councils, describing it as “frustrating that we’ve still got some questionnaires that are still not there”.
Government has been asking schools to fill in surveys relating to RAAC.
“We’ve been chasing and chasing them,” Keegan said. “So we’re just written again today to say you need to get your questionnaires in by the end of the week.”
Pressed on the source of her frustration, she again said it was aimed at “no-one in particular”, before adding “we’ve done a really good job. The department and everybody. We’ve been working really hard on this”.
“We’ve done a really good job at identifying 156 [schools]. But we’ve still got some questionnaires we need to get back. And without that, we really can’t make the first steps.”
Pressed once more, she added: “Actually it was the interviewer. Because the interviewer was making out it was all my fault. And that’s what I was saying, do you ever go into these interviews where anyone says anything but you’ve just done a terrible job.”
Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, said the comments amounted to a “staggering admission that Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives have done nothing to address a problem that they have known about for years”.
“The education secretary has displayed staggering arrogance for saying she deserves a pat on the back for the chaos that is gripping our schools on their watch.
“Families, school leaders and school staff deserve an immediate apology for these appalling comments.”
Lib Dem education spokesperson Munira Wilson MP said Keegan’s comments “add insult to injury for parents who’ve seen their children’s return to school ruined by this concrete crisis”.
“Expecting people to thank her when children are being taught in classrooms at risk of collapse shows Keegan must be living on another planet.”
It comes after Keegan pledged that the government would refurbish or rebuild schools “that need it”.
But she revealed 1,500 schools are yet to complete checks to see if they have RAAC. And another 450 schools with suspected RAAC are still waiting for an official assessment from a government engineer.