Teaching union plans landmark case if school elects BNP councillor as vice-chair of governors
British National party councillors could be barred from serving as school governors if a landmark case planned by a teaching union goes ahead. The Nasuwt union, which represents a quarter of a million teachers, is poised to spend up to £20,000 on a judicial review if BNP councillors are elected on to school governing bodies. In judicial reviews, a judge considers the lawfulness of a decision or action of a public body. The Nasuwt review could start as early as this month.
The union says a primary school in the East Midlands is holding an election this term that could see a BNP councillor become vice-chair of its governing body. Nasuwt would not disclose the name of the school or its location. The union's lawyers say there is "strong potential for success" if they attempt to overturn a decision to elect a BNP councillor on to a governing body, under the Race Relations Act 1976.
Section 71 of the act imposes a legal duty on governing bodies to carry out their duties with "due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful racial discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and good relations between persons of different racial groups".
Chris Keates, the union's general secretary, said: "The BNP stands on a ticket that breaches the Race Relations Act. We believe that the values and ethos of public service are directly opposite to the views of BNP members. There is therefore an inescapable logic: how can people who hold BNP views hold a public service like being a member of a school governing body without compromising the school? Fascists have used the democratic process to get in control before. We shouldn't be standing by and letting this happen."
Keates has written to the heads of children's services at all local authorities in the UK and to the National Governors' Association to warn them that they may be failing in their duties "if it can be shown that any of the governing body or council's functions or a particular council policy has played a role" in the appointment of a BNP councillor.
She has also written to the schools minister, Vernon Coaker, to ask if he "could give serious and urgent consideration to issuing advice to local authorities and governing bodies of all schools encouraging them to review their compliance with the Race Relations Act provisions in this context, and to offer appropriate advice to avoid the appointment of members of the BNP to any governing body function".
Keates said: "If we hear of a case of a BNP councillor elected to a governing body, and this is not overturned by a council, we will take this to judicial review."
School governors set the strategic direction of a school and oversee any changes to its policies, including those on equal opportunities and the hiring of staff. Keates said: "The BNP stands for racial intolerance and community fragmentation. All right-minded people would want to make a stand on this."
But Judith Bennett, a former chair of the National Governors' Association who has been a school governor for 15 years, speaking in a personal capacity, said: "No one person on a governing body can make a decision about a school alone, except in an emergency. I don't think a BNP councillor on a governing body would necessarily pose a threat, because any decision about the school is voted on. It is a concern that they might be trying to advance racist views, but I wouldn't be in favour of an outright ban."
In May, Stoke council's Labour group prevented the BNP from placing three of its councillors on the governing body of an 80% Asian school.
Earlier this month, an ex-BNP member, Matthew Single, was fined £200 after he admitted leaking the names and details of thousands of party members online. Police officers, teachers, church figures and lawyers were among those revealed to be BNP members.
In June, the Guardian revealed that the government was investigating a possible ban on British National party members working as teachers in schools. The issue was being "actively looked at", a source close to Ed Balls, the education secretary, said. A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said today that the issue "remains under constant scrutiny, but there have not been developments as yet".
The General Teaching Council for England, which registers teachers to work in state schools, has rejected appeals to ban BNP members. Lawyers warned the GTC it could be accused of discriminating against members of the far-right party if it refused to register them.
Police and prison officers are not allowed to be members of the BNP, but there is no ban on teachers being members of the party. They must, however, not allow their beliefs to compromise their professional conduct.