Zahawi vows to ‘tackle harassment head on’ following anti-vax protests

Education secretary says protests are 'outrageous' and warned 'no one should be stigmatised for their decision'

Education secretary says protests are 'outrageous' and warned 'no one should be stigmatised for their decision'

27 Sep 2021, 13:31

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The new education secretary has vowed to “tackle harassment head on” after schools were targeted in a series of anti-vax protests across the country.

Nadhim Zahawi slammed the actions of protesters as “outrageous” and warned “no one should be stigmatised for their decision” over whether to receive the vaccine.

Writing in The Telegraph, he said “a small minority” had “spread conspiracy theories and campaigned outside schools, targeting teachers and even pupils”.

“This is outrageous. Under no circumstances is it ever acceptable to target teachers or the wider school community.”

He added: “I want teachers and students to know that I will always stand up for them and tackle harassment head on, so teachers can do their vital jobs safely and children can get the education they deserve – regardless of choices made over vaccination.”

Zahawi praised schools for going “above and beyond” to create spaces and acquire consent for the School Age Immunisation Service to issue vaccines to pupils aged between 12 and 15.

The vaccination programme began last week, but schools across the country have been targeted by angry anti-vaxxers opposed to vaccinating children.

Schools Week previously reported how protesters waiting outside school gates have told pupils the covid jab causes cancer, infertility and death. One school in Leicester received a death threat due to the vaccination programme.

However, government guidance is clear that schools have no legal responsibility for the vaccination programme, and are only involved to the extent where they provide a venue.

Zahawi’s comments mirror those of skills minister Alex Burghart, who told the Commons last week protests were “abhorrent” and advised any school facing intimidation to contact the DfE so it could “follow-up”.

Government ‘won’t let attendance fall’

The education secretary also promised that the government “won’t stand back and let attendance fall”.

Data published by the Department for Education last week revealed the proportion of pupils absent from school because of Covid dropped to 1.5 per cent in mid-September, but more than 100,000 pupils were still absent because of suspected or confirmed cases..

“We must do everything we can to keep as many in face-to-face learning as possible,” said Zahawi.

“We can’t and won’t stand back and let attendance fall. The education of our children is simply too important.”

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