Reform UK MP accused of mounting ‘witch-hunt’ against local teachers

<span>Rupert Lowe says he gathered the list from parents and would be pursuing the matter with headteachers.</span><span>Photograph: Tejas Sandhu/PA</span>
Rupert Lowe says he gathered the list from parents and would be pursuing the matter with headteachers.Photograph: Tejas Sandhu/PA

A Reform UK MP has been accused of mounting a “witch-hunt” after saying he has a list of schools where teachers were allegedly “pushing” critical views about the hard-right party to pupils.

Rupert Lowe, who was elected last week in Great Yarmouth, said he had gathered the list after being contacted by parents in the constituency and would be pursuing the issue with headteachers.

His warnings have sparked unease and anger among senior figures in schools in the area, according to the deputy leader of the Labour group on Norfolk county council.

The MP tweeted on Monday that he had “heard disturbing reports of local schools forcing negative political beliefs about Reform on children during the campaign”.

Lowe added: “I have gathered a list of schools (including primary level) in my constituency where teachers were allegedly pushing their own aggressive personal views about Reform on young children.

“I will be following up with each and every headteacher, making it abundantly clear that their responsibility to the children does NOT include forcing political opinions on impressionable young boys and girls.”

Reform, which won 14% of the vote share at last week’s general election, has stood on a platform of hardline opposition to immigration, saying it wants to reduce net migration to zero.

Several of its candidates were ousted before the election for making racist and other offensive comments. Its leader, Nigel Farage, has promised to “professionalise” the party.

Lowe, a former Southampton Football Club chair, arrived at Westminster on Tuesday with the party’s four other MPs after overturning a Tory majority of 17,663 to win in Great Yarmouth.

However, Mike Smith-Clare, a Labour councillor with the education brief on the party’s Norfolk county council group and a teacher by background, accused Lowe of threatening local headteachers.

“Education managers will make better use of their time running their institutions rather than being held to account by the naive personal grievances of a political newbie,” he said.

“The fact that this appears to be no more than a political witch-hunt can be viewed as a possible violation of professional and confidentiality codes. I’m certain teachers and their unions would have expected support from their MP in his first few days of tenure – not the threat of interrogation.”

Steve Chalke, the founder of the Oasis Charitable Trust, which runs 54 academies in some of Britain’s most deprived communities, said: “In my experience teachers do not push their ‘own aggressive personal views’ about anything. Instead, they are dedicated professionals who care about the nurture and education of children and understand the difference between education and indoctrination. It is a line not to cross.

“However, as part of this, it is their responsibility to teach the core values of equality, diversity and inclusion. These are the core principles that make any society one worth being part of.”

Daniel Kebede, head of the National Education Union, which represents teachers, said: “This is a rightwing populist party cynically stoking up division to garner support.

“The outside world informs classroom discussions every day at schools across the country. Teachers take their responsibilities very seriously when handling topical issues and carry them out with considerable care.”

Lowe said: “Clearly, there have been no threats. I am simply raising concerns from worried parents who have come to me about conduct during the election campaign, which must be correctly verified and examined.”

His office provided the Guardian with several examples of what a spokesperson said were parents who had got in touch to complain about teachers expressing personal views about Reform in the classroom.

They included one from a parent, responding to Lowe’s post, who said that a mock election had been held in their child’s school. They claimed: “When Reform won the vote, the teacher broke down, got angry, and told the children how disappointed she was in them for voting for a racist party.”

Another claimed that a teacher had described Reform as “racist” and told children that he could not vote for the party “with a good conscience” because of this, saying it wanted to remove immigrants and likewise “any trans or LGBTQIA rights in school”.