Council chiefs hit back at Liz Truss after claims Leeds children couldn't read or write due to focus on 'racism and sexism'

Senior Leeds councillors have hit back at claims the city's children were let down in the 1980s and 1990s because schools were too busy teaching pupils about racism and sexism.

Minister for women and equalities, Liz Truss, made the comments during a speech about a "new approach to tackling inequality across the UK" yesterday (Thursday).

Ms Truss attended Roundhay School - judged to be 'Outstanding' by Ofsted - before studying at Oxford University.

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She has previously described the teaching techniques she experienced in Leeds as “trendy”.

Liz Truss.Liz Truss.
Liz Truss.

Ms Truss said in her speech: "As a comprehensive school student in Leeds in the 1980s and 1990s, I was struck by the lip service that was paid to equality by the City Council while children from disadvantaged backgrounds were let down.

"While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write."

She added: "Rather than promote policies that would have been a game changer for the disenfranchised like better education and business opportunities, there was a preference for symbolic gestures."

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The speech was uploaded to the Government's website yesterday, but large sections - including the references to Ms Truss's school years - were removed today and replaced with the words 'political content'.

Roundhay School.Roundhay School.
Roundhay School.

Leeds City Council's Cabinet member for learning, skills, employment and equality, Jonathan Pryor, accused Ms Truss of having a "poor recollection" of Leeds schools in the 1980s.

He added: "The fact that a Conservative MP infers that being taught about sexism and racism is a waste of time speaks volumes.

"Schools should absolutely be teaching that sexism and racism have no place in society.

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"We know only too well the legacy of the Conservative Government to education in the 80s - defunding of state schools and devastating social policies such as Section 28 which led to things like young gay people attempting suicide.

Jonathan Pryor.Jonathan Pryor.
Jonathan Pryor.

"Right now teachers are dealing with the effects of the pandemic and doing an extraordinary job.

"These teachers are getting little support from Government, confusing and late guidance, and constant U-turns.

"Liz Truss should be thanking teachers now, not obsessing over her poor recollection of the 1980s."

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Council deputy leader James Lewis said: "As someone else who attended Leeds City Council schools in the 1980s and early 1990s, I think it’s sad that someone wants to score cheap political points in London by talking down a whole generation of pupils and teachers who struggled through the last period of Conservative austerity cuts."

In her speech, Ms Truss said past governments focused too much on race, gender and sexuality issues at the expense of geographic inequality and class.

The women and equalities minister said it is “true people in these groups suffer discrimination”.

But she said the focus on protected characteristics, laid out in the 2010 Equality Act, “has led to a narrowing of the equality debate that overlooks socio-economic status and geographic inequality”.

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Speaking at the right-leaning Centre for Policy Studies think tank, she added: “This means some issues – particularly those facing white working-class children – have been neglected.”

Her speech, titled The New Fight For Fairness, outlined a new approach to equality which she said would reject “identity politics and loud lobby groups”.

She added: “It will focus fiercely on fixing geographic inequality, addressing the real problems people face in their everyday lives, using evidence and data.

“If you were born in Wolverhampton or Darlington, you have been underserved by successive governments.

“No more. Things must change and things will change.

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“This new approach to equality will run through the DNA of this Government.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said Ms Truss was “presenting a false choice”.

“Ministers must both tackle the barriers facing today’s diverse working class, and act to end the additional discrimination and disadvantage affecting BME, women and disabled workers,” she said.

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