Review rejects ‘disproportionate’ BNP ban for teachers

By Alex Stevenson

Members of the British National party (BNP) and other racist organisations can continue teaching in taxpayer-funded schools, an independent review has concluded, prompting condemnation from teachers’ unions.

Maurice Smith, a former chief inspector of schools, told that racist teaching by members of organisations like the British National party (BNP) in maintained schools was a “very small” problem.

The largest teachers’ union NASUWT’s general secretary Chris Keates dismissed his report as “woefully inadequate and littered with contradictions”. Public services union Unison’s general secretary Dave Prentis called the report a “missed opportunity to kick the BNP’s politics of hate out of our schools”.

Mr Smith was asked by schools secretary Ed Balls to investigate whether existing safeguards against racism are sufficient to protect children from racist views.

His review found there should not be a ban on teachers joining racist organisations because this would be disproportionate to the level of prevalence of the problem.

“There is no consensus about where to ‘draw the line’ if a ban were considered, it concluded, adding that “the relationship between racist behaviour and membership is not necessarily causal”.

Mr Smith believes that because there have only been a handful of cases of racist teachers it is important to keep the issue “in proportion”, adding that “a sledgehammer and a nut come to mind”.

“This is a very small problem,” he insisted.

“I think the banning of people from political parties or organisations of that nature would be a disproportionate response.”

There have only been nine cases brought before the General Teachers’ Council in the last seven years, with four being brought to the attention of the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Mr Smith explained that his review had disregarded the leaked membership lists of the BNP, but that even with the 15 names listed as being teachers there were only a small number of children affected – when compared with “ten million children attending 20,000 schools every day of the week for 200 days of the year”.

He pressed: “My analysis is that the chances of a child being subject to racist teaching or teaching of intolerance are so small that the profound measure of banning half a million people from joining a party is a disproportionate act.”

Unions responded angrily to the review.

“Membership of the BNP is completely incompatible with delivering education to children,” Unison’s Mr Prentis said.

“Schools should be at the forefront of promoting racial equality, not places where BNP members can spread their message of hate to impressionable young people.”

Ms Keates of the NASUWT added: “The idea that a person who signs up to membership of the BNP can simply leave these beliefs at the school gate and behave as a ‘professional’ when they walk into school is risible.

“A principled stand was required. This is a matter of social justice, staff well-being and child protection.”

Both unions intend to raise the issue again when it is addressed next year, after Mr Smith recommended that it be reviewed at regular intervals.

The schools secretary has asked Mr Smith to begin a fresh review looking at the extent of the problem in independent schools.

It follows concerns raised by the Conservative shadow Cabinet in the Commons about the Islamic Shaksiyah Foundation Schools and their links to the extremist Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.

Mr Balls wrote in a letter to Mr Smith: “I would like you to explore further whether the current arrangements strike the right balance between allowing independent schools autonomy, operating in accordance with their ethos and values, and protecting the young people attending those schools from teachers displaying racist or intolerant views or behaviours that could be harmful.”