Power to sack racist staff

Court of Appeal ruling could help schools keep BNP activists out of the classroom. Jon Slater reports

A Court of Appeal ruling backing the decision of a private company to sack a British National Party activist will help schools keep racist staff out of the classroom, unions and employers believe.

The "watershed" ruling permits the sacking of staff for political beliefs if they pose a risk to health and safety. It suggests that schools and local authorities will in future be free to dismiss BNP activists if their presence directly contradicts the organisation's ethos.

Concern about BNP activities surfaced this week after two Cumbria teenagers organised a special meeting in Maryport yesterday to combat the advance of the BNP in the area.

Duncan Money, 18, head boy at Netherhall school, and Jonathan Wood, 17, said they were horrified to hear the BNP had been holding meetings in Maryport.

Judges ruled in May that Serco, the services company which runs Walsall's education service, and West Yorkshire Transport Service, had acted legally when it dismissed Arthur Redfearn from his driver's job in Bradford after he was elected to the city council to represent the BNP.

They reversed an employment appeal tribunal decision that Mr Redfearn's dismissal had breached the Race Relations Act and denied him the right of appeal to the House of Lords.

The Court of Appeal said the dismissal was justified because of:

* anxiety amongst Serco's customers about his employment;

* damage to Serco's relations with unions and the public; and

* the significant risk that members of the public would associate the company with the BNP and that this might lead to attacks on minibuses. Most of the passengers on West Yorkshire Transport Service buses are of Asian origin.

Schools wishing to sack BNP activists could make use of the ruling but would have to be careful how they did it to ensure the employee would not have a separate claim for unfair dismissal, The TES understands.

The NASUWT recently stepped up its long-running campaign against BNP activists by writing to Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, urging him to prevent them working in schools and allow unions to expel them.

As The TES revealed in July, the union wrote to Derby council over claims that Clive Jones, a BNP candidate in council by-elections, had been told to teach only white pupils. The claims were denied by the council. In 2004, Simon Smith, a maths teacher at St Peter's Roman Catholic school in Solihull, was suspended following his decision to stand as a candidate for the party.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: "The views and beliefs of such individuals are incompatible with the ethos and purpose of public services. Hopefully, this case will signify a watershed in challenging those who subscribe to the pernicious agenda of the BNP."

* jon.slater@tes.co.uk

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