Teachers’ strike figurehead posed in classroom with ‘only good Tory is a dead Tory’ placard
A figurehead of the teachers’ strike posed in a classroom with an “only good Tory is a dead Tory” placard, The Telegraph can reveal.
Lucy Preston was featured in media outlets explaining why she and 200,000 other members of the National Education Union (NEU) shut down most schools by striking on Wednesday.
The 38-year-old is under “urgent” investigation by the hard-Left union after The Telegraph sent officials images of her posing with the placard in a classroom at George Green’s School, on the Isle of Dogs in London, where she teaches English.
Conservative MPs demanded that the secondary and sixth form school assesses whether her “hatred” is “fit for the classroom”.
Jon Ryder, the principal, confirmed that the school was investigating and would “take whatever action is appropriate”.
He said George Green’s School “actively promotes a culture of mutual respect and tolerance and does not condone violence or this kind of language”, adding: “Given the nature of the investigation, we are unable to comment further.”
Ms Preston, a committee member of the NEU’s Tower Hamlets branch, posed in class with the placard, which said “the only good Tory is a dead Tory” and “the only good Lib Dem is a dead Lib Dem”.
In a caption to the picture, posted on her Instagram account on Jan 20, the Jeremy Corbyn supporter wrote: “Student of the week goes to the ledge who made me and @ninisnails_ldn [Naoise McGeer-Letson, an art teacher at the same school] this placard.”
The Telegraph has also obtained Twitter posts dating back to 2011, when Ms Preston started teaching, in which she writes:
The mother of two has said she works three days a week and spends two days looking after her children.
In interviews with national media outlets this week, she said she was so cash-strapped on her £1,800-a-month salary that she had missed her son’s fourth birthday to do a private tutoring job.
Describing it as “utterly heartbreaking”, she said: “If I could just make enough money to not have to do the tutoring in the evening, I would have a much happier life… every single month, it is a struggle.”
The NEU’s first of seven days of walkouts saw up to 200,000 of its 300,000 members strike on Wednesday, closing more than half of schools in England and 83 per cent of secondary schools as it pursues an above-inflation pay rise.
Ms Preston could be suspended or dismissed after NEU chiefs launched an investigation. A spokesman for the union said: “The NEU in no way condones the use of violent language or imagery. We have begun a process of investigating this incident. We will not be making further comment on the incident until such time as the investigation has concluded.”
Robin Walker, a senior Tory MP who chairs the Commons education select committee, told The Telegraph: “This seems like a pretty extraordinary breach of the impartiality rules.
“Teachers, of course it’s right they should teach children about politics and politically contentious issues – but they’re under a duty to do it in a balanced way. Any imagery of that sort is clearly not at all balanced or reasonable. That is certainly something that should be looked into by the school where she works.”
Jonathan Gullis, another Tory MP, told The Telegraph: “To see such hatred targeted at people simply for having a different political belief and for a teacher to bring their own party politics into the classroom, goes against everything that you’re told under the teaching regulations and recent Government guidance.
“I hope that the NEU will suspend her and that there will be an urgent review about whether she’s a fit and proper person to even be in the classroom.”
An NEU source said a meeting of national officers, including the union’s president, would be held as “a matter of urgency” early next week, adding: “There are numerous outcomes – she could be suspended there and then, for example, or suspended at the end of the investigation.”
The NEU’s rules state that “members will conduct themselves professionally and ethically, with respect for others” and that “discrimination and discriminatory behaviour” is liable to disciplinary action and sanction.
A spokesman for the union said: “We want to reiterate that the NEU is not politically affiliated, that we attend all major political party conferences each year and have supporters of all those parties in membership of the union. At all times, we advocate for the union’s positions by means of argument and persuasion.”
The George Green’s School code of conduct for teachers says “staff must not use the school premises for their personal usage on internet/social media” and “must not use their status as a staff of the school for their personal advantage” in any political activities.
Legal duties on schools and DfE impartiality guidance, released last year, say they must remain politically impartial. At the time, Dr Mary Bousted, the NEU joint general secretary, claimed there was “absolutely no need for new guidance” because teachers treat politics “seriously and carry it out with considerable thought”.
Ms Preston, who deleted her Instagram account on Thursday, could not be reached for comment.