Ex-Roundhay pupil says she felt 'let down' like Liz Truss at Leeds school

A former Roundhay School pupil has defended Foreign Secretary Liz Truss's repeated criticism of the education she received at the school.

The Tory leadership contender has faced a backlash over comments she has made about her time at school in Leeds but a fellow former pupil has now offered her qualified support. Daily Telegraph journalist Rosa Silverman said she also had concerns about the schooling she received there in the 1990s.

Ms Truss attended Roundhay School in Leeds in the late 1980s and early 1990s and spent a year in Canada before securing a place at Oxford University, where she became president of the society of Liberal Democrats.

During the ITV leadership debate on Sunday, Ms Truss was asked by Rishi Sunak: “You’ve been both a Lib Dem and Remainer. Which one do you regret most?”

Liz Truss said children at her Leeds school had been "let down".

Ms Truss said she had been on a “political journey” and cited her experience of “seeing kids at my school being let down in Leeds” as her reason as to why she became a Conservative.

It was the latest in a series of critical comments she has made about her education in Leeds and her upbringing in the city.

Last week, she said of her schooling in Leeds: “Many of the children I was at school with were let down by low expectations, poor educational standards and a lack of opportunity. Too much talent went to waste.”

She also separately claimed that she had grown up “at the heart of the Red Wall” - a claim ridiculed as “frankly laughable” by the area’s current MP, Fabian Hamilton.

In December 2020, she also said of her schooling: “While we were taught about racism and sexism, there was too little time spent making sure everyone could read and write.”

Ms Truss was born in Oxford in 1975 but grew up in Leeds after her father got a job as a university professor in the city. She attended Roundhay School in the leafy suburb of the same name in the north-east of the city.

She wrote: "While some alumni have rushed to defend the school, my own feelings about it are mixed. The teachers were passionate and tried their best, but everything was against them – particularly the pupils. There was mayhem in those old, high-ceilinged classrooms.

"I started there in Year 7, in 1994, so did not cross paths with Truss, who was seven school years ahead. But I inherited the same headteacher. Talking to friends from older year groups, it seems our experiences were similar: teachers pleading in vain with pupils to pay attention. Failed attempts at discipline.

"My classmates despised the would-be stern maths teacher, who was driven to the end of his tether in every lesson. They openly scorned our biology teacher and mocked the physical appearance of this poor, well-meaning woman whose interest in science was unaccompanied by crowd control skills.

"Were we let down, as Truss alleges? I felt let down by the nasty, destructive culture that thrived among the pupils. I failed to pretend convincingly that I did not want to achieve anything, and the worst thing you could do was let on that you were willing to try. It was, as I discovered, social suicide."

But she said Ms Truss's 2020 comments alleging a focus on racism and sexism rather than teaching key educational subjects did not reflect her experiences.

"I recall learning about racism there precisely once (and only in relation to rugby); sexism, not at all. Had anyone tried to teach us about either, they would, as in all other lessons, have struggled to make their voice heard."

But in another newspaper article, Martin Pengelly, breaking news editor for the Guardian US and a former Roundhay pupil who attended the school around the same time as Ms Truss, said: “Truss claims to have grown up in a Red Wall seat. This is not just a wilful anachronism, it is flatly untrue. Leeds North East, the constituency that contains both Roundhay school and the tall stone houses in which Truss and I grew up, was Conservative from 1955 to 1997 – by which time Truss had graduated from Oxford.”

He added: “Truss left Roundhay in 1993. I left in 1996. Simply put, we were both taught well by the same good teachers, from whose work I have benefited every single day since I left the school – as I am sure Truss has too.”

He said claims that teachers had focused on racism and sexism above educational basics were “risible”.

Fellow former pupil Laura Parker said on Twitter that Ms Truss’s latest claims were “not true”. She said: “I was at the same school at the same time.

“It provided support to children for whom English was a second language; had good special needs provision; excelled in sport, music and drama; and had significant numbers going to university.”

Peter Mills wrote on Twitter: “This thing with Liz Truss rubbishing Roundhay School has gotten my goat. It was excellent then, as it is now. The only person who has ever disparaged it is her - tells you a lot.”

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