No ban for BNP teachers

12th March 2010 at 00:00
Balls accepts findings of report which says the move would be `too large a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut'

Teachers will not be barred from being members of the British National Party (BNP) after the Government accepted the recommendations of a new report today.

The review, undertaken by former chief inspector of schools Maurice Smith, found that there were already enough checks and measures in place to prevent the promotion of racism in the classroom without turning to an overall ban on BNP teachers.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls has accepted the report's recommendations in full, which also calls for an annual "watching brief" on the safeguards that are in place.

Both the report and Mr Ball's decision to accept it will infuriate classroom unions, including the NASUWT, which have long campaigned for a ban. They have urged that the teaching profession should follow the example of the police and the prison service, both of which bar BNP membership.

The report's findings come just a week after The TES reported that Adam Walker, a BNP member and former teacher at Houghton Kepier Sports College near Sunderland, lost his fight to avoid being summoned by the General Teaching Council for England (GTC) after admitting posting anti-Muslim comments on a website while using a school laptop.

When Nick Griffin, BNP leader, protested outside one of Mr Walker's earlier hearings in November 2008 he described the proceedings as "farcical" and a "politically motivated show trial".

Mr Smith said the decision not to call for a ban on organisations such as the BNP was due to it being "disproportionate to the level of risk".

The Government adviser added that there would be no clarity as to "where to draw the line".

In his report, Mr Smith said: "To include over half a million teachers and start to add associated professions and members of the public (ie governors), based on the level of prevalence of public concern, would be taking too large a sledgehammer to crack a very small nut."

And he added: "The Government should also be mindful of such action. The BNP, for example, at the time of writing is a legitimate political party. The scale of the action being considered by some would ban more than half a million individuals, and potentially many more associated professionals, from expressing their democratic freedom of joining a legitimate political party."

Writing in response, Mr Balls said in a letter: "There is no place for racism in our schools ad it is vital that we have the appropriate measures in place in schools to safeguard our children and young people.

"It is reassuring to know that the current measures in place are working."

Mr Balls has also asked for a further review into independent schools over whether the balance is right between school autonomy and pupil welfare.

The schools secretary originally ordered Mr Smith's review during the Labour Party Conference in September last year, using it as a central part to his speech stating that he wanted "to be confident that we have all the powers we need to keep racism and BNP activity out of all our schools".

The decision is likely to go down very poorly with teaching unions the NUT and particularly the NASUWT, which has been campaigning for a classroom ban on the BNP for a number of years.

When Mr Balls announced the review, NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates described the decision as a "major step" toward banning teacher from joining the BNP.

Ms Keates said last year: "The NASUWT has campaigned tirelessly for a number of years to have the teachers' contract changed to prevent the BNP from working as teachers. Today's announcement is a major step forward towards that goal.

"Previous secretaries of state have been sympathetic but now we have a clear commitment to take action on this issue."

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