• General Teaching Council accused of failing to act
• Party members banned from police and prisons
The General Teaching Council for England is today accused by members of its governing body of failing to act to prevent British National party members from teaching in schools.
The GTCE has refused to write a clause into its new code for teachers barring BNP members from working in state schools. This was after receiving legal advice that to do so could "prejudice" teachers who are members of the far-right party.
In a letter to the Guardian today, five members of the governing body of the GTCE – which registers teachers to work in state schools in England and conducts disciplinary hearings – call for an urgent public debate. "We believe that being a member of the BNP is fundamentally inconsistent with the ethos of schools in this country," they write.
They say the election of two BNP candidates to the European parliament, including the party's leader, Nick Griffin, who has a conviction for inciting racial hatred, has made the issue even more urgent.
Members of the BNP, the National Front and Combat 18 are barred from working in the police force or prison service. The Church of England is considering a similar measure. Teaching leaders called for the government to rewrite teachers' contracts, banning BNP members from schools, saying failure to do so was allowing "creeping legitimisation" of the party.
The GTCE is due to debate its new code next month. A draft version said "respect, equality, diversity and inclusion" were among eight "core values" that should be shared by all in the teaching profession.
It also included the ruling that teachers "maintain standards of behaviour, both inside and outside school". But the GTCE refused to include a clause banning BNP membership. In a statement, the GTCE said it was advised it could not bar members of a "lawful" political party. Any council member who expressed a view against the BNP could be accused of discrimination, prejudicing the case.
"As a regulatory body, we cannot regulate against the beliefs of professionals, only their actions and conduct," it said. Any council member who expressed anti-BNP views could not adjudicate in hearings involving BNP members and might compromise the council's impartiality.
The letter to the Guardian reads: "The new code should clearly state that BNP members will not be eligible for registration as teachers by the GTC ... If it is possible for other professions to resolve the legal difficulties, then it should be possible for the GTC." The authors argue that legislation requires everyone working in schools to "promote good race relations and community cohesion".
Kirit Modi, a former teacher, deputy of education at Islington council, north London, and now an education consultant, is one of the signatories. He said: "We have been told we can't discuss this matter because it will cause legal difficulties. We haven't been able to debate this within the GTC and that's why we are calling for a wider debate."
A list of BNP members leaked last year included 15 teachers, four nurses, a prison officer, 17 former police officers and 16 members of the armed forces.
Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said BNP members should be banned across the public sector. "If BNP members are too racist or fascist to be in the police then they are too racist or fascist to work with children.
"It would be easy for someone in the BNP, holding the views they do, to discriminate against pupils. It would be easy for a BNP member to exclude pupils from black or minority ethnic groups by simply not giving them equal attention and that would be very hard to detect," she said. "I can understand the GTC may be in a difficulty of prohibiting somebody through a code of conduct. But I don't think the GTC is powerless. They could be campaigning to change teachers' contracts."
The union has lobbied successive secretary of states for education to tackle the issue in teachers' contracts.