Tristram Hunt meant 'no offence' by 'arrogant and ignorant' comments on nuns teaching

Gordon Brown's former spin doctor was among Mr Hunt's harshest critics

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The Independent Online

Tristram Hunt has stressed he meant “no offence” by comments he made about nuns teaching, which critics labelled as “arrogant and ignorant”.

The Shadow education secretary was accused of "sneering" at nuns after he clashed with journalist Cristina Odone on the BBC's Question Time panel show.

Ms Odone, the Deputy Editor of the New Statesman, was describing how her “most inspiring” teachers had not always been through teacher training colleges, when Mr Hunt interrupted: “these were all nuns, weren't they?”

The Labour politician, who opposes the use of unqualified teachers, told Ms Odon: "I know about your religious schooling and there's a difference, I think, between a state education system having qualified teachers in the classroom."

Ms Odone retorted that she knew more about her education than Mr Hunt, adding that she had been to a Catholic school, a state school and a private school.

"The best [teachers] did not come out of teacher training college," she said.

A former editor of the Catholic Herald, Ms Odone told the publication that the Stoke-on-Trent MP’s comments were "arrogant and ignorant".

"Why is it acceptable to denigrate anything Catholic but bleat tolerance about every other religion?" she said, adding she would "fear" for the UK’s 7,000 "brilliant faith schools" under a Labour Government.

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spin doctor Damian McBride gave one of the most strongly-worded critiques of Mr Hunt, calling him a "d*ck" for attacking his mother's profession.

Tory MP Conor Burns also waded into the debate dubbed '#nungate' on social media, labelling his comments "absolutely shocking" and "sneering".

Fellow Tory Nadine Dorries echoed Mr Burn’s view, calling Mr Hunt’s remarks arrogant, sneering, and intolerant. 

Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson cited her partner's education as she hit back at Mr Hunt.

Falling short of an apology, Mr Hunt tweeted he "obviously meant no offence to nuns."

On BBC QT I was trying to make a generalised point about the use of unqualified teachers in schools. I obviously meant no offence to nuns.

— Tristram Hunt (@TristramHuntMP) February 6, 2015

Asked whether David Cameron believed nuns could make good teachers, a Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister thinks that there are a range of people who are well-qualified to be excellent teachers and it is obviously for headteachers to make those decisions on the ground.

"What matters most is that children are getting the best quality education they can."

Additional reporting by PA