Here we see teachers wanting to control the political ideas of their pupils, which is what Stalin, Mao and Hitler also did.
Yet they cannot even see the irony of their anti-fascist fascism.
Should far-right parties have a platform in school debates?
Schools want to invite politicians in to debates; but if they have to include the BNP, many increasingly feel they would rather not bother
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* Fran Abrams
* The Guardian, Tuesday 13 April 2010
* Article history
Pupils from Titus Salt school and Grange school in Bradford discuss far-right political parties
Pupils from Titus Salt school and Grange school in Bradford discuss far-right political parties in the run-up to the general election. Photograph: Christopher Thomond / Guardian
It's a soft spring day in a leafy part of Bradford, and on the streets there's little sign yet that electioneering is about to begin. But in a meeting room at the newly rebuilt Titus Salt school, all blonde wood and natural light, pupils are wrestling with an election-related question. And it's a thorny one: would they be happy to see a candidate from a far-right party such as the BNP walking in through their school gates?
Josh Parkinson, 13, thinks he would. "The way I've been brought up is that we need to listen to different people's views, even though we might think some of them are racist," he says. "Why shouldn't we listen to them? Personally, I want to know more about politics while I'm young."
Elisha Lau, 16, doesn't agree: "I think it should be up to the students of the school to say if the BNP should be allowed in. I don't think many people would like for them to come in, because nobody agrees with what they say," she says.
It's a question that will exercise many schools across the country in the coming weeks – and one that will cause extreme discomfort in some. In the past, schools like Titus Salt have often invited candidates to talk to their sixth-formers in the run-up to an election. And so far as the Guardian could ascertain, the BNP has never yet been invited to such an event.
That could change if schools follow new guidance from the Citizenship Foundation. According to the charity, which works with schools to promote social cohesion and which received more than £1m last year in government funding, if a group's activities are legal, then its views should be represented alongside those of the mainstream political parties.
"Unless and until the law decrees any political party to be undemocratic, illegal, or in contravention of human rights law, schools must treat all parties equally," the guidance says. Schools taking a "no platform" stance against racists may be accused of being "oppressive, selective, 'politically correct' and anti-democratic", it adds.
At most schools, including at Titus Salt, staff are clearly hoping the question won't arise. The BNP hasn't yet declared a candidate for the Shipley constituency in which the school stands, though in 2005 it polled 2,000 votes here – 4% of the total.
The school's deputy head, Ian Morrel, says that in the past, the mainstream parties have been invited in to talk to A-level politics students. But in the light of this new guidance, he seems unsure what they would do in the future.
"Fundamentally, what we want to do is to challenge those opinions, and it is about allowing people to tackle extremist views," he says. Would Titus Salt school invite in a BNP candidate? "It wouldn't be an autonomous school decision. It would have to be a corporate view from the local authority," he says, a touch uneasily.
Yet this is not a school that wants to avoid uncomfortable conversations. Through an organisation called the Schools Linking Network, it has been involved in a series of projects with predominantly Asian schools from other parts of the city, aimed at bringing together young people with different ethnic backgrounds – and different views. It is not uncommon to hear racist views expressed, Josh Parkinson says – and for him the project has been about learning to confront them.
In the past, schools have been able to largely ignore the existence of organisations such as the BNP, but that stance is becoming harder to sustain. Last month, the schools secretary, Ed Balls, accepted the recommendation of an independent review that BNP members should not be barred from working as teachers.
The Maurice Smith review on preventing the promotion of racism by teachers found that in the last seven years, only four teachers and two school governors have been identified as being members of racist organisations, and only nine incidents of teachers making racist remarks or holding racist materials have been subject to disciplinary action by schools. Smith, a former chief inspector of schools, thought banning BNP members from teaching would be "taking a very large sledgehammer to crack a minuscule nut".
Don Rowe, co-author of the Citizenship Foundation's new guidance, says the far right is becoming increasingly hard to ignore.
"Since the last election, the issue of the need to treat the BNP as an existing political party is much clearer in the sense that there are MEPs," he says.
He suggests that teachers, who tend to be anti-BNP themselves, may be going too far in promoting anti-racist views – and in not giving pupils opportunities to form their own opinions on issues such as immigration. "I think teachers feel you can't give much space to the argument that immigration is damaging the fabric of the country or the culture," he says. "But the task of the citizenship teacher isn't to create left-of-centre citizens in their own image. There's a clear duty to introduce young people to the arguments that are going on in our society."
The 1996 Education Act says pupils must be given "a balanced presentation of conflicting views" if controversial issues are raised in the classroom. Rowe argues that this means where race or immigration are discussed – for example in citizenship lessons – the views of organisations such as the BNP need to be included. He concedes that there may be tension between that requirement and schools' statutory duty under the 2006 Education and Inspections Act to promote community cohesion, but insists schools should talk to all the political parties in the run-up to the election, or none.
"There isn't a strong case for prohibiting the fair treatment of all the political parties if schools decide to set up that sort of debate," he says.
The National Union of Teachers has been campaigning for a ban on BNP membership among teachers and school governors. Last week, delegates at its annual conference renewed the calls, and claimed the far-right party had already gained a foothold in schools in some areas. The union's assistant secretary, Amanda Brown, said it had been recently investigating the law on school election debates after phone calls from members asking whether they needed to invite BNP candidates into their schools.
"There's a difference between whether a class is talking about policy or about general election processes," she says. "There's no legal requirement that schools have to treat all electoral candidates with equity. You could choose not to have someone from the BNP, so long as you can demonstrate that you've reached a well-reasoned decision," she said.
The issue is one about which few people want to talk publicly; several schools in areas where the BNP is strong declined to comment on the issue, as did the BNP itself. And a quiet consensus is growing that this year there won't be many schools' general election debates in constituencies where the BNP has candidates. Brown says some schools have already told her that if there's a question of having to invite the BNP, they simply won't invite anyone.
Others in the education system share her view – and many of them believe schools will actually be the poorer for it. At Matthew Moss school in Rochdale, there's a feeling this response to the new guidance will be widespread: "The reality for most schools will be if we feel under pressure to invite the BNP, schools aren't going to invite anyone," says Mark Moorhouse, the school's deputy head. "An election time is rich with learning, but the conversation [about inviting the BNP to election debates] would be: 'Do we have to?' and that's enough to put people off doing it."
Matthew Moss is a very different school from Titus Salt –a third of its pupils are from ethnic minorities, and about 35% are entitled to free school meals. And the school also has the perhaps uncomfortable distinction of being one of the very few state schools whose pupils have actually canvassed the views of the BNP during a lesson.
The conversation took place during a practice run for a BBC schools' news day in March, during which a group of girls decided to report on the French ban on headscarves in schools. Supervised by a teacher, they conducted a telephone interview with the BNP's deputy leader, Simon Darby. Darby's comments were subsequently dropped from their report, not because they were racist, but because he completely failed to answer their questions, instead talking in general terms about school uniforms.
The incident sparked a flurry of headlines, but despite the unwelcome publicity, the headteacher, Andy Raymer, says it was a useful educational exercise and one he would happily repeat. He believes the debate about whether schools should or shouldn't talk to organisations such as the BNP underlines a deeper malaise within the education system.
"Learning isn't a risk-free activity, and if you remove the risk, you may also remove the learning," he says. "Any really successful lesson has to deliver people prepared to take risks, critically curious people who are prepared to engage with the process of learning and to think about themselves within it. If you don't let people find out, all they'll have in their heads is superficial, misinformed stuff. Are we happier with that?"