Former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson vented to his colleague Matt Hancock that teachers were looking for an “excuse to avoid having to teach” during the pandemic.

Sir Gavin, who wrote to teachers in September 2021 thanking them for their “outstanding work” and “incredible efforts throughout the pandemic”, privately criticised school staff and teaching unions in WhatsApp conversations with then-health secretary Matt Hancock.

In May 2020, as schools were preparing to reopen following the first nationwide lockdown, Sir Gavin made a request for personal protective equipment to be supplied to schools, saying it was “basically a last resort so they can’t use it as a reason not to open”.

He added: “All of them will but some will just want to say they can’t so they have an excuse to avoid having to teach, what joys!!!”

Sir Gavin was later criticised for his handling of students’ exams that summer. On 1 October, after it was revealed that the following summer’s A-level exams would be delayed, Mr Hancock messaged Sir Gavin saying: “Cracking announcement today. What a bunch of absolute arses the teaching unions are”.

The then-education secretary responded: “I know they really really do just hate work”

Sir Gavin was sacked in September 2021 after intense criticism of his handling of Covid-19 measures in schools, including a controversial algorithm that decided student grades in place of exams.

He was briefly reappointed to Government by Rishi Sunak last year, but served just two weeks before being sacked over allegations of bullying and abuse.

Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Munira Wilson said: “Gavin Williamson was a disgraceful education secretary and these comments solidify his place in history as one of the worst Ministers ever to grace government.

“At the very least Gavin Williamson should apologise for these comments.

“The most shocking thing about Williamson’s catalogue of failures is that Rishi Sunak believes this person was still fit to serve in Government.”

The comments are the latest to surface via leaked messages from Mr Hancock’s WhatsApp, handed to The Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott. Mr Hancock had given her access to the messages while she was helping him write his memoir Pandemic Diaries.

Ms Oakeshott, a vehement critic of lockdown measures during the pandemic, has denied she has violated an NDA by revealing their contents.

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