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Education Secretary defends holidaying in Spain as concrete crisis unfolded

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan headed to Spain before the school closures announcement (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan headed to Spain before the school closures announcement (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan has defended holidaying with family in Spain as the crumbling concrete crisis hitting schools unfolded.

The Cabinet minister said on Monday she has “always worked remotely” and continued to chair a response team while on the continent for her father’s birthday.

Aides had conceded she was in Spain between August 25 and Thursday, when the closures at more than 100 schools were ordered.

Her holiday emerged as Ms Keegan was under pressure after being caught on microphone suggesting “everyone else has sat on their arse and done nothing” as she tackled the crisis.

Ministers have said they were acting after receiving concerning new evidence about reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (Raac) over the summer.

Ms Keegan said the trip to Spain – where she reportedly owns property in Madrid and Marbella – was her first opportunity to go on holiday this summer after dealing with striking teachers, as well as GCSE and A-level results.

She told Sky’s Politics Hub: “I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me, I’m certainly not getting that vibe from you.

“But what I arranged was to go on holiday on that day for my dad’s birthday – it was a family occasion and we went.”

The minister said she chaired a response team from Spain “every day” despite the vacation.

She said she has “always worked remotely” throughout her career, in business before becoming an MP, and said she planned to come back if investigations raised concerns.

“I came back straight away – well actually I had to wait a day because of the air traffic control issue,” she added.

The complete or partial closures at 104 schools and colleges in England over Raac was announced with a press release on Thursday afternoon.

Ms Keegan, according to aides, was in her department overseeing the publication of the guidance that day before speaking to broadcasters in the evening.

A Department for Education spokesman said: “Throughout this summer the Education Secretary has been driving forward this Government’s priorities, bringing an end to strike action in schools, announcing 15 new free schools and seven new Send (special educational needs and disabilities) schools, as well as overseeing the return to pre-pandemic grading for GCSE, A-level and VTQ results.

“The Education Secretary took the cautious and proactive decision to change guidance on Raac and this week has chaired daily operational calls with ministers and senior officials in the department and virtually.”