10 Times Interviewers Couldn't Hide Their Frustration With Gillian Keegan Over Crumbling Schools

The education secretary's morning media round didn't exactly go smoothly on Monday.
Gillian Keegan clashed with Nick Ferrari and Nick Robinson this morning
Gillian Keegan clashed with Nick Ferrari and Nick Robinson this morning
LBC/Today programme

Education secretary Gillian Keegan dodged plenty of questions while explaining what is happening with crumbling schools this morning – leading to several awkward interviews on live TV and radio.

More than 100 schools across England are closed today over fears that the institutions have buildings made of RAAC, an unstable kind of concrete which is at risk of collapse.

As this week usually marks the beginning of the autumn term and the start of a new school year after the summer holidays, the public are understandably frustrated – and confused – about why this is all happening now.

So, broadcasters were keen to get some firm answers from the education secretary, but Keegan seemed intent on keeping her cards pretty close to her chest...

Here’s a look at 10 times she clashed with broadcasters this morning over the issue.

LBC’s Nick Ferrari

1. ‘You’re the government!’

The LBC host noted in his interview with Keegan that the thousands of schools have still not responded after her department asked them if they think they have RAAC.

As he pointed out: “You’re the government!”

“Well, actually it’s the responsible bodies which have to do this for us,” Keegan replied, suggesting it wasn’t the government’s fault for the delay.

2. Ferrari suggested her responses are not ‘comforting’ listeners

“There’s no other government in any other part of the country – or even beyond that – which has as much information about RAAC in their schools as this government,” Keegan said.

Ferrari replied: “My listeners are sending their children to school in this country, so saying we’re doing better than France or whatever, isn’t that comforting.”

3. ‘Not getting a grip of this’

As the interview went on, Ferrari asked: “Do you understand why listeners think ‘they’re just not getting a grip of this’?”

“You don’t know how many schools are out there, you haven’t returned their questionnaires [about RAAC],” the host added, as the minister refused to clarify how many schools might be at risk of collapse.

4. Smacking the table for emphasis

The host asked when the deadline for schools to tell the government if they suspect they have RAAC in their buildings, noting: “You must have given the schools a deadline.”

“I. Need. Your. Report. By. Tuesday,” Ferrari said, smacking his desk with his hand on each word, before adding “for the purpose of debate.”

“Well, the deadline’s passed,” Keegan said, explaining that it was in March.

The government has now sent in surveyors to the schools who haven’t replied, according to the education secretary.

5. Queries about the quantity

Ferrari asked Keegan how many schools she expected to have a RAAC problem, guessing: “400? 500? 600?”

“That’s not the point,” the minister replied.

He hit back: “That is the point. Respectfully, I think it is the point to ask the secretary of state...”

“No it isn’t Nick,” Keegan said.

“Well, you’re the boss!” Ferrari replied, implying that it’s her responsibility to know.

She just said: “We can deal with the size we have.”

Today programme’s Nick Robinson

6. ‘Why won’t you publish the list now?’

The host of Radio 4′s Today programme became infuriated over the education department’s refusal to publish a full list of which schools are closed.

“There are parents and pupils who will go to the school gates today, tomorrow, next day, and find their school is closed but they’ve not been informed,” he pointed out.

As Keegan said every individual school knows if it has to close over RAAC, but Robinson said: “If everyone knows, why won’t you publish the list now?”

She said she’ll publish it this week, but is being extra thorough right now as she is a “very details person”.

7. Could there be ‘hundreds more’ schools with RAAC?

Robinson pointed out there may be as many as 1,500 schools where the children could not be safe because that’s how many have not completed their government surveys.

The host asked with incredulity if there “could be hundreds more” schools with RAAC – Keegan said that could be the case.

8. Numbers slammed for being ‘meaningless’

Robinson said “the first warnings came many, many years ago,“ and questioned why the government has not acted on RAAC worries sooner.

He said: “The government initially funded 100 – and Rishi Sunak cut that to 50.”

The Today programme host also noted: “Since the Conservatives came to office, the spending in your department has been cut by 50% in real terms.”

When Keegan started to talk about how she was increasing funding for her department, Robinson replied: “To announce a number [for spending] without a number of years is meaningless!”

After a few more sentences from Keegan, the host cut in again: “You’re throwing numbers out which have no meaning unless you compare it with something else!”

BBC Breakfast’s Sally Nugent

9. ‘I’m so sorry to interrupt...’

The BBC Breakfast host asked Keegan how many schools are affected by the current crisis, only for the education secretary to start the process of explaining how RAAC is identified in schools.

“But how many are affected? I’m so sorry to interrupt, I know that’s irritating,” Nugent added.

As Keegan started to reply, Nugent pushed again: “Just tell us how many schools are affected now, this Monday morning.”

“There are 104 that are not mitigated, and that are being mitigated right now,” she eventually replied.

10. Frustration over the lack of transparency

“By the way, we’re the only country and the government who can tell you where RAAC is in schools and have this process,” Keegan smiled.

“But you can’t currently tell us that the surveys are completed and the state that the buildings that children are due to go into this week?” Nugent said, looking exasperated.

Keegan just said the “responsible bodies” are already taking action.


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