Tristram Hunt apologises for nuns remarks on Question Time

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has apologised for his remarks on BBC television's Question Time when he appeared to criticise the use of nuns as school teachers.

Mr Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, clashed with Christina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald, in an exchange that quickly went viral on Twitter under the hashtag #nungate.

Ms Odone said: "The most inspiring teachers I've ever encountered were not out of teacher training college. You know what, they taught values, not British values, they taught real values."

Mr Hunt responded: "These were nuns. These were all nuns, weren't they?" He added: "I know about your religious schooling and there's a difference I think between a state education system having qualified teachers in the classroom."

One of Labour's election pledges is to prevent the use of unqualified teachers in state schools.

Today Ms Odone told the Herald: "Tristram Hunt's comments on nuns last night were arrogant and ignorant. Why is it acceptable to denigrate anything Catholic but bleat tolerance about every other religion? To know he and Labour stand a chance at the next election makes me fear for the 7,000 brilliant faith schools in this country."

Among the many, often witty, responses on Twitter was that of Sister Catherine Wybourne, an enclosed order nun who tweets as @digitalnun. She wrote: 

Former Labour spin doctor Damian McBride tweeted: "Oh Hunty. My mum spent most of her career teaching in a 'convent school', working alongside nuns. They gave incredible educations."

James MacMillan, the top composer and practising Catholic, tweeted: 

MSP Ruth Davidson tweeted: 

MPO Conor Burns tweeted: 

The Catholic Herald published a comment piece also headed: "If only Tristram Hunt had been educated by nuns." The paper said his tone reflected a "contempt" for Catholic education among a new generation of politicians.

Noting that Mr Hunt is among those who wish to introduce compulsory sex education for five-year-olds, the Herald said: "It's Hunt's tone, more than his exact words, that jars because it reflects what many Catholics fear in the country, namely, that there is a certain generation of MPs who do not understand – and perhaps secretly detest – Catholic education."

Mr Hunt was himself quick to apologise. Earlier today he tweeted this: