Leading article: How to root out racist teachers

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The Independent Online

The news that the Government is to consult teachers' leaders over whether to ban members of neo-Nazi groups such as the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18 from teaching may give some people cause to cheer.

The news that the Government is to consult teachers' leaders over whether to ban members of neo-Nazi groups such as the British National Party, the National Front and Combat 18 from teaching may give some people cause to cheer. These three organisations are notable for peddling poison about ethnic-minority groups. Certainly, no parent from the ethnic-minority community could feel confident about any member of those organisations teaching their children. However, we need to be cautious about banning people from undertaking certain jobs because of their political views. The British National Party and the National Front are not illegal organisations, and have been able to put up candidates to stand in elections. Any government ban of these organisations would therefore lead to a legal challenge because they are bona fide political organisations - and that is regardless of any concern that a ban might infringe civil liberties.

The proper way to deal with these organisations is through the Race Relations Act, which says it is an offence to stir up racial hatred. If individual teachers are suspected of doing this in the classroom, they should be prosecuted and a judge should consider whether the organisation they belong to should be declared illegal. That is a preferable route to banning these people from teaching. If a legal action succeeds under the Race Relations Act, well and good. If it fails, it shows that the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) would be on shaky ground barring all members of the three organisations from teaching.

Another way for action to be taken against a teacher who is preaching racial hatred in the classroom or failing to show equal respect for all pupils, is for the school to institute disciplinary procedures against them. As the DfES acknowledged in its response to the original request from the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers for a ban on the three organisations, it would be possible for teachers to be taken before the General Teaching Council on a charge of bringing the profession into disrepute. In other words, it is better to use the existing law and procedures to ensure that racial intolerance is kept out of the classroom than go down a road which could made the BNP and other organisations look like the victims of an overweening state machine.

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