A senior official in the British National Party was invited to address a classroom on whether the hijab should be banned, The Times has learnt.
Simon Darby, the BNP’s deputy leader, was phoned by 14-year-old students in Rochdale, Lancashire. The pupils, supervised by a teacher, asked him questions over the phone about the French ban on the hijab. The BNP’s policy is to ban Islamic dress in schools.
Andy Rymer, the head of Matthew Moss High School, told The Times that the students were doing a project on news reporting and had suggested contacting the BNP. He said: “We ask kids to be critically curious. This was something they were interested in and wanted to check out. They did so in a supported way with an intelligent teacher.
“(The school) is not encouraging people to contact or spread the philosophy of the BNP. Equally we have a significant number of kids in here for whom those issues are very real.”
However, the move raised concern from some parents and Paul Rowe, the area’s Liberal Democrat MP who separately participated in the discussion.
Mr Rowe said that there were plenty of other political parties that could have been consulted and that it was “inappropriate” for students to discuss issues with the BNP. He said: “I’m concerned that anybody is giving succour to the BNP.”
Some Asian parents at the school, in the Castleton area of the town, spoke of their concern at allowing the BNP a voice in the classroom.
Jamil Khan, whose daughter wears a headscarf to school, said: “I do not feel comfortable with the presence of the BNP in the classroom. They are extremists, full stop. They can only paint the picture one way.”
However, many parents said that they were happy to leave the matter to the discretion of the teacher and the school. Its governors said that as long as the issue was handled carefully, there was no reason to exclude the BNP as the party was active in the area and students would come across it eventually.
Ted Flynn, a governor and local councillor, said: “I’ve no sympathy with the BNP at all. But the pupils are intelligent enough not to be wavered by Nick Griffin and his compatriot’s opinions.”
Mr Raymer said that a group of Asian students were undertaking a project on news reporting and had decided to investigate the British reaction to the French Government’s decision to ban the hijab from schools.
He said they were not satisfied by Mr Darby’s response on the issue as he referred to British school uniforms.
Mr Raymer said: “At the end they were angry their question hadn’t been answered properly. The discussion turned to how journalists operate to get answers.”
On his blog, Mr Darby said: “It was reassuring to think that even in 2010 politically correct Britain there are still teachers who insist on the old adage that if you don’t have access to all the information, you will never come up with the right answer.”
It comes as a government review is due on whether BNP members should be prevented from becoming teachers. Police and prison officers are already barred from joining the party.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: “We trust head teachers as professionals to ensure appropriate visitors are invited into their school and that pupil welfare and safety issues are considered.”
The spokesman said the promotion of partisan political views was forbidden, adding that there were safeguards in law to guard against biased or unbalanced teaching.