BNP leader welcomes ruling on teachers

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The Independent Online

Teachers should not be banned from joining organisations which promote racism and intolerance, a report suggested today.

Barring school workers from membership of such non-proscribed groups or political parties would be a "disproportionate response" and a "profound political act", the study's author concluded.

Maurice Smith, who was tasked with investigating the problem of racism within schools, said such action would constitute "taking a very large sledgehammer to crack a minuscule nut".

The former Chief Inspector of Schools said 10 measures already in place were sufficiently comprehensive to "mitigate the risk", though he acknowledged some of these needed time to "bed-in" and could be improved upon.

Among his suggestions outlined to Schools Secretary Ed Balls, Mr Smith recommended closing a gap between "policy on the shelf and practice in the classroom".

"I do not believe that barring teachers or other members of the wider school workforce from membership of legitimate organisations which may promote racism is necessary at present, although it should be kept under active review," he said.

"To bar teachers or other members of the school workforce from joining non-proscribed organisations would be a profound political act.

"In my analysis it would be a disproportionate response, taking a very large sledgehammer to crack a minuscule nut."

Mr Smith, who is currently director of education for the Church of England Manchester Diocese, was speaking at the Department for Children, Schools and Families in central London.

Outlining the findings of his study, he said the relationship between racist behaviour and membership of an apparently racist organisation was "not necessarily causal".

And he said there was currently "insufficient evidence of risk" to justify a ban on teachers joining organisations like the BNP.

There was also "no clear consensus" on where to draw the line in terms of the wider school workforce or the public sector as a whole, he concluded.

But he added: "If as a result of the recommended ongoing scrutiny and monitoring, the prevalence, and thus the risk, were to increase substantially, the Secretary of State could reconsider his position."

His independent review made six recommendations which the Government has accepted in full.

These include asking Ofsted to note whether a school is judged inadequate in promoting equal opportunities in its inspection report; ensuring schools are subject to external scrutiny; carrying out an independent evaluation of the transition from an "inadequate" Ofsted judgment to a "good" performance and the monitoring of reported racist incidents by local authorities which should be subject to Ofsted evaluation.

He said the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), the General Teaching Council for England (GTCE) and the National College for Leadership of Schools and Children's Services (NCSL) should share their expertise to establish consistent standards.

The Education Secretary was encouraged to keep matters under "active review" with annual reporting.

Mr Smith's report also highlighted public concern which he said was focused on independent schools staffed by unqualified teachers.

He recommended a further investigation into this sector.

His suggestions were welcomed by Mr Balls who has commissioned a report into independent schools, to be published in September.

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

Recognising room for improvement, he added: "That is why I am accepting the recommendations and I am taking steps to implement these immediately and keep them under active review.

"The report has also identified that many of the safeguards that protect children and young people from discrimination or political indoctrination that are in place in maintained schools do not apply to schools in the independent sector."

While he said the position of independent schools was "very different", he added: "I remained concerned about Maurice Smith's observations about the independent sector and therefore I have asked him 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."

The review was branded a "golden opportunity squandered" by the teaching union NASUWT.

General secretary Chris Keates said the report was "woefully inadequate and littered with contradictions".

"I warmly welcomed the Secretary of State's decision in September 2009 to initiate this review," she said.

"I do believe, however, that Maurice Smith has squandered a golden opportunity to advance the cause of ensuring good race relations in schools.

"The report is woefully inadequate and littered with contradictions."

And Ms Keates said the review failed to provide any evidence about how effective equalities measures already in place had been, while accusing it of being "complacent about the dangers schools and children face".

"Maurice Smith seems to have focused, to a point of obsession, on the number of incidents," she said.

"Most right-minded people would say that keeping a running tally of the number of racist incidents in schools would seem to be perverse.

"One incident is one too many. How many incidents would there have to be before Maurice Smith would be persuaded that further action is needed?

"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."

In his review, Mr Smith noted that four teachers and two governors had been identified as members of the BNP during the last seven years, while nine teachers had been subject to disciplinary sanction.

And he acknowledged that another 15 people had identified themselves as teachers on a leaked list of BNP members but said there was no way of substantiating the apparent declarations.

BNP leader Nick Griffin welcomed the report, saying schools should be "fountains of learning" rather than "indoctrination centres".

"All teachers should, however, keep their politics strictly separate from the classroom," he said.

"Several cases have come to light in recent times where left-wing teachers have been exposed promoting their own brand of politically correct politics in the classroom, with no action being taken by educational authorities.

"This is clearly wrong and should not be tolerated. Schools should be fountains of learning and study, not indoctrination centres."