This short article of mine is cross-posted at Counterfire.
Many teachers, pupils and parents will be concerned at the announcement, following a review, that British National Party (BNP) members will not be barred from teaching. The review, commissioned by the government in the wake of a BNP membership leak, advocates that nobody should be prevented from teaching in England as a result of membership of the BNP or any other racist organisation. The BNP list, leaked on the Internet last September, identified 15 members of the party who currently work in teaching.
The decision has been taken despite the existing ban on BNP members in the police and prison services. Many people working in education believe the same standards should be extended to the teaching profession. Tony Dowling, a National Union Teachers (NUT) activist in Gateshead, told Counterfire: "In the NUT we are proud of our commitment to the anti-fascist cause, reflected in the union setting up a political fund dedicated to campaigning against the BNP. It is fundamental that we don't allow members of a racist and fascist organisation to teach in our schools. It gives false respectability to a party that intimidates minority communities and wants to smash democracy."
For many people this issue relates directly to the question of what kind of places schools should be. Tony explains: "Schools need to be safe, inclusive places where every child is valued. This is ABC for teachers - and I know the overwhelming majority of parents feel the same way. Teachers who are signed up to a party with diametrically opposed values - values of intolerance and exclusion - cannot possibly support the sort of environment we need. Last week we took a group of pupils to a mosque in Newcastle, where they had a tour and learnt about the Islamic faith. Such educational opportunities broaden children's horizons, but are despised by the BNP."
The new report claims that existing measures to protect pupils from discrimination are adequate. Those who have lobbied for new restrictions, by contrast, argue that a teacher's membership of the BNP is incompatible with values like respect for diversity and a commitment to schools as inclusive communities. Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teacher's union, says: "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 ".