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As Tory leadership and Prime Minister hopefuls Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak battled it out in a war of words in the BBC’s televised debate on Monday night, one theme appeared to strike a chord between the two. When debate mediator Sophie Raworth brought up the topic of education, Mr Sunak watched on as Ms Truss attempted to explain why the pair’s schooling roots had taken the fore in the leadership race. She, like the majority of the country, went to a primary and comprehensive school; Mr Sunak’s formative years, like many of his political colleagues, took him through a privately educated journey which cost tens of thousands of pounds.
In a last-ditch attempt to win over the Stoke crowd watching the debate live — and one that was met with applause — Mr Sunak said: “Liz, you’ve brought it up before (him being privately educated) so let me just address it.
“My parents were part of an immigrant family that came here. They didn’t start with very much, but they worked day and night, saved and sacrificed to provide a better future for their three children. And I am nothing but enormously grateful for everything that they did for me.
“I’m certainly not going to apologise for the fact that they worked hard and they aspired to do that for their kids. And in fact, those values about hard work and aspiration and building a better future for your children, that’s why I want to be Prime Minister, that’s why I want to do it for other people.”
But what is the debate around education really all about? And where did Ms Truss and Mr Sunak study? Express.co.uk delves into the Tory leadership candidates’ schooling histories.
Liz Truss: Her and Rishi Sunak’s education has been a source of interest
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Ms Truss grew up in the leafy suburbs of Roundhay, Leeds, in the Eighties and Nineties in what she has described as a “left-wing household”.
Her father was a university professor and her mother a nurse and teacher.
She attended Roundhay school which today has an “outstanding” rating from Ofsted.
This month, she made comments about the school, saying she had witnessed “children who failed and were let down by low expectations” during her time there.
She made similar comments in response to Mr Sunak’s lengthy speech about his own education during Monday’s debate.
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Many have since hit out at Ms Truss’ comments about Roundhay, including supporters of Mr Sunak who pointed out that the school was highly ranked when she attended it.
Labour councillor in Leeds Jonathan Pryor also called Ms Truss out, writing on Twitter how the Tories were in charge when Ms Truss was in school.
He wrote: “Liz Truss blaming teachers and her Leeds school for her education again — forgetting that when she was at school the Tories were in power so the underfunding is on them…”
Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West also responded, saying: “The main issue with Liz Truss’s stories about her Leeds school is she was educated entirely under a Tory Government.
“The school she went to was fully refurbished under Labour and was a much better school after she left. So the takeaway is vote Labour if you want better schools.”
And Fabian Hamilton, the MP for Leeds North East — which includes Roundhay school — claimed her comments showed that she “knows little about” the area.
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He said: “First, she wrongly suggested that Roundhay was a red wall seat and now she has criticised our hardworking teachers and school staff in Leeds.
“Roundhay school has been an excellent educational institution for decades and its staff and students are real assets to our community. It’s shameful that Liz Truss has decided to attack them today.”
Mr Sunak, meanwhile, went to some of the country’s top schools.
All fee-paying, he has tried to play down the prestige and nature of his education, repeatedly referring to his background as the son of a local pharmacy owner in Southampton.
The former Chancellor began at a preparatory school in Romsey, Hampshire, and went on to attend Winchester College, which currently costs £45,936 a year for boarders.
Lizz Truss profile: She has regularly mentioned her primary and comprehensive school education
There, he was head boy and editor of the school newspaper, throwing himself into the heart of what a private education entailed.
His further education took him to Oxford University where he studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) — which Ms Truss also studied before him.
It was during this time that he and his parents were interviewed for a BBC documentary titled, Middle Classes: Their Rise and Sprawl.
A clip from the programme recently resurfaced on social media, in which Mr Sunak says: “I have friends who are aristocrats, I have friends who are upper class, I have friends who are working class… well, not working class.”
His studies did not stop there, and he soon travelled across the pond to the US, gaining an MBA (Master of Business Administration) from Stanford University on a Fullbright scholarship, which helps with a portion of the finances needed to cover the year abroad.
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In their battle of the educations, he has commented more than once on Ms Truss’ history.
Speaking to Politico, he said: “Liz Truss should not be rewriting history, particularly when it comes to education. Her unfounded allegations against her old school are as nearly as ludicrous as her unfounded evidence for tax cuts.”
But a supporter of the Foreign Secretary soon hit back, saying “she will take no lectures in educational standards from an LA-based, Goldman Sachs banker who went to a school for the uber-elite,” adding: “This puerile nonsense has no place in a leadership race. Liz’s team will be speaking to Rishi’s team to ensure this contest remains a battle of ideas not a mud slinging match.”
The decision over who will lead the Tory party is now down to party members.
The winner and next UK Prime Minister will be announced by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee, on September 5.