Labour's shadow education secretary has been accused of “cosying up” to independent schools after she took a selfie with the vice-chair of the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference, which represents the UK’s leading private schools.
Yesterday, Mr Wheeler tweeted a selfie with Labour’s Angela Rayner after a private meeting with Chris Wheeler, also head of the independent Monkton Combe School.
The HMC leader said they both agreed that they wanted to “create the best possible education for every child in this country” accompanied with the hashtag #pupilsnotpolitics.
Great meeting @AngelaRayner today. We agree that we all want to work together to create the best possible education for every child in this country, focused on #pupilsnotpolitics and found much more that unites than divides. I left inspired. @HMC_Org @JulieR_isc @drdavidajames pic.twitter.com/9WDecOYZs7— Chris Wheeler (@MonktonHead) October 8, 2019
He described how he left the meeting feeling “inspired” and had found “much more that unites than divides.”
But the news has antagonised Labour activists who want to see their party get rid of private schools altogether. Last month, Labour's conference passed a motion to abolish independent schools through fully integrating them into the state sector.
At the time, Ms Rayner promised to “close the tax loopholes used by elite private schools and use that money to improve the lives of all children.”
But following the tweet about her meeting with Mr Wheeler, Holly Rigby, co-ordinator of the campaign to “Abolish Eton”, accusing Ms Rayner of “cosying up to defenders of elite privilege” over Twitter.
News alert 🚨 I speak to all educators as the aspiring education secretary.— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) October 8, 2019
PS: I’ve also featured in many selfies & it doesn’t imply any so called ‘cosying up’ https://t.co/cLp0ktTYiH
“Pick a side Angela: are you with the people or the privileged?” she wrote.
In defence of her meeting, Ms Rayner said she spoke to all educators as shadow education secretary and that featuring in selfies was not a political statement.
And in response to questions over where she sends her own children, she stated that they had all attended local state schools like herself, but said she does not “judge parents.”
“My job is to create the best education system for all children and that’s what I’m focused on,” she wrote.
No, all three of my kids go/went to the local comp like I did (& my eldest went onto FE) - I don’t however judge parents. My job is to create the best education system for all children and that’s what I’m focused on. https://t.co/XeSlniHw5w— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) October 8, 2019
HMC declined to comment on the issue, stating that the meeting between Ms Rayner and Mr Wheeler was a private conversation. The Labour Party have been contacted with a request for comment.