Schools will not be given powers to sack teachers who are members of extremist groups - including the BNP - under proposed new rules, union leaders have warned.
An overhaul of the standards that all teachers have to meet will not outlaw extremists from the classroom, according to a draft copy of the regulations seen by The TES. The revelation comes despite a pledge last year by education secretary Michael Gove to create new powers to fire BNP members and other extremists who work in schools.
The revamped standards are designed to incorporate the controversial General Teaching Council for England’s code of conduct, which places expectations on how teachers behave in their private lives.
According to the “ethics and behaviour” section of the new standards, teachers will be told that they must be tolerant and not undermine “UK democratic values” (see box). But union leaders have said this will not give schools any significant new powers to deal with extremist teachers.
NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates said: “The new standards don’t do anything different to the current frameworks, which means there are still no procedures to prevent teachers with extremist views (from being employed).”
Mr Gove spoke out following the case last year of Adam Walker, a BNP-supporting teacher who used a school computer to post a message describe immigrants as “filth” and “savages”. Despite his comments, the GTC found Mr Walker not guilty of racial and religious intolerance, prompting criticism from Mr Gove. He said at the time that new proposals were needed “to ensure that extremism has no place in our classrooms”.
Ms Keates, who met with Mr Gove last week, wants a change in teachers’ contracts to prevent BNP members from entering the profession, a provision already in force for police and prison officers. She said Mr Gove “seemed keen” on this proposal.
“We have still not got an answer from the Department for Education as to why BNP members can’t be banned from teaching; it’s not as if we would be setting a precedent,” Ms Keates said.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads’ union the NAHT, said the new standards would not lead to “vast” changes.
“I think the Government has gone as far as it can without undermining human rights,” he said. “It would be very difficult to ban a political party or ideology, so I sympathise entirely with their intent. There are several different points in the standards which could refer to membership of the BNP, and I think this does strengthen the position of headteachers who don’t want them on their staff, but not by vast amounts.”
John Bangs, senior research associate at Cambridge University and former head of education at the NUT, said the proposed standards were not the way to tackle extremist teachers.
“Teachers absolutely should not be affiliated to extremist roups, but the place to deal with that is in a code of conduct, not within pedagogic standards,” he said. “It’s entirely inappropriate and will make no difference whatever.”
The final draft of the standards are due to be submitted to Mr Gove next month, with a final report expected in the autumn.
A spokesman for the Department for Education said: “We want to ensure that the necessary powers are in place for head teachers and governing bodies to deal with any teacher who promotes inappropriate views or behaviour or advocates discrimination in schools. The Teachers’ Standards Review will look at how best to achieve this.”
CODE PROPOSALS: Key points
- Have tolerance and respect for the rights of others, and not undermine UK democratic values.
- Not express personal beliefs, including political, religious or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit pupils’ vulnerability.
- Treat all pupils with dignity, building relationships rooted in mutual respect.