A company that rents digital message boards to schools said it has removed a series of slides featuring Boris Johnson after complaints from parents.
The slides, showing a brief biography of Johnson – including one stating “He wants to unite the UK” – were raised in the House of Commons by Stella Creasy, the Labour MP for Walthamstow, in north-east London, after parents in her constituency complained on social media about seeing the images at a local primary school.
Phil Austin, the chief executive of Anomaly, the company that rents the 2 metre high displays to schools in England and Wales, said the slides were uploaded at the start of the month.
“We’re operating in thousands of schools and we’ve never had a complaint about content until today,” said Austin, who added the slides had now been deleted.
The displays allow schools to broadcast their own announcements and videos for pupils and parents, while the company provides general interest content, such as informational videos on yoga, mental health and chickenpox.
The cause of the controversy were three slides, out of nine, featuring Johnson, which Austin estimated would have appeared on screen for only 15 seconds.
One slide reads: “He has made promises about public services” and: “He has promised to put more money into schools, more money into the NHS and 20,000 police officers back on the streets.”
Another slide says: “He wants to unite the UK” with a union jack in the background.
A third shows a picture of MPs in the House of Commons debating chamber, with the caption: “Brexit was supposed to happen on 29th March 2019 but politicians have been unable to agree a deal on the best way to do it” and: “He [Johnson] promised Brexit would be done.”
Austin said the series also included a slide showing anti-Brexit protests which stated that “not everybody” agrees with Johnson. Another slide showed Johnson when he was famously stuck on a zip wire, captioned: “People have many different views about Boris Johnson because of his political views, plans for Brexit, personality, dress sense and past behaviour.” Austin said the series also showed other prime ministers, including John Major.
Austin said his company had been inundated with media inquiries since the images appeared on social media, and he apologised for causing distress.
“I’d like to say that describing the prime minister as not popular with everybody, with anti-Brexit protests in the background, is not pro-Brexit,” said Austin, who said he had “no interest” in politics and did not vote in the 2016 referendum.
On Wednesday evening, after the Commons reconvened following the supreme court decision that prorogation was unlawful, Creasy asked Johnson: “Given the amount of money this government is spending on Brexit adverts, can he at least reassure Walthamstow residents that in this instance it wasn’t his doing? And give his personal pledge that our primary schools will remain Brexit propaganda-free zones?”
Johnson replied: “Obviously the honourable lady is bringing me news about the schools in her constituency.”
Anomaly’s websites said the displays had been “instrumental in helping schools improve their Ofsted grading”. The company lists their benefits as “engaging pupils to understand fundamental British values” and “safeguarding children from extremism and radicalisation”, two areas under scrutiny by Ofsted and the Department for Education in England.
Austin said the service in schools did not show adverts or use paid content. The government said it had no involvement with the slides.
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