The government is investigating a possible ban on British National party members working as teachers in schools in a move that could challenge the legitimacy of the far-right party.
A source close to the schools secretary, Ed Balls, said there had been several meetings on the issue with teaching unions which are lobbying for a change in teachers' contracts to prevent them from working if they are members of far-right groups including the BNP. The issue was being "actively looked at", the source said.
It comes after it emerged that the General Teaching Council for England (GTC), which registers teachers to work in state schools, had rejected appeals to ban BNP members. Lawyers warned the council it could be accused of discriminating against members of the far-right party if it refused to register them.
Five members of the council's own governing body wrote to the Guardian on Saturday to appeal for a national debate on the issue. They claimed the GTC was "hiding" behind legal advice to avoid banning the BNP from registering as teachers.
Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, confirmed she had held several discussions with Balls about the possibility of a ban and had called for a change to teachers' contracts to prevent BNP members from teaching.
The source close to Balls said the issue was being re-examined in the light of the election to the European parliament of two BNP members, including party leader Nick Griffin, who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred.
The GTC was advised by lawyers that it would be discriminatory to ban members of a lawful political party. It was also told that if it declared any views on the BNP, it could be accused of lacking impartiality in any subsequent disciplinary hearings involving teachers in the far-right party.
A BNP membership list leaked last year included the names of 15 teachers, four nurses and one prison officer as well as 17 former police officers and 16 members of the armed forces. Members of the BNP, National Front and Combat 18 are banned from joining the police or becoming prison officers.
In the letter to the Guardian, the five GTC members argued that legislation required everyone working in schools to "promote good race relations and community cohesion", which would be incompatible with some views held by the BNP. The party supports voluntary repatriation of non-white citizens.