UK Politics

Labour conference: Free schools 'fascism' claim

Patrick Roach
Image caption Patrick Roach was speaking at a Unite Against Fascism meeting

A teaching union chief has accused Education Secretary Michael Gove of risking an increase in "organised fascist activities" in English schools.

Patrick Roach, deputy general secretary of the NASUWT, said deregulation of schools was creating a climate in which fascism and racism could grow.

And he said there was nothing to stop "extremists" setting up free schools.

The education department said there was no truth in Mr Roach's claims.

Speaking at a Unite Against Fascism fringe meeting at the Labour Party conference, Mr Roach said the education secretary had sought to "stifle the ability of schools to engage young people in learning and education around citizenship and values in terms of multiculturalism".

"Instead we are seeing a return to the 1950s ideology and view of the world, in which, frankly, people knew their place and in which minorities certainly didn't have a place at the top table.

"And we need to find a way of challenging and confronting that."

'Fascist activity'

He accused the education secretary of "turning back the clock on the issue of race equality within our schools" by removing the requirement on schools to show they are promoting social cohesion and "to monitor their workforce so that it is representative of the communities that schools are intended to serve" and to be inspected for racial equality.

In 2011, the NASUWT produced research which suggested 15% of teachers in England and Wales had been aware of "organised racist or fascist activity inside or outside of the school".

Mr Roach, whose union represents about 230,000 teachers in England and Wales, told the meeting: "We know that schools have become sites for organisation of racist and fascists.

"We are also concerned, as a union, that this coalition government's efforts to privatise schools is more than likely to make the problem of organised racism and fascism in and around schools even worse.

"As this government presses ahead with deregulation, teachers don't have to be qualified, and the fact that they're not bothered about vetting and accrediting those who are providers of schools means that anybody with an interest in education can come along and run schools in their own image and for their own purposes.

"And that's clearly an agenda that we need to find a way of challenging."

'Immediate action'

Asked afterwards if there was any evidence that far right groups were planning to set up free schools, he said: "There is nothing to stop them.

"Michael Gove, the coalition government, would argue that the BNP is a legitimate political party, so there is nothing to prevent the BNP from setting up a school. Nothing at all."

A Department for Education spokesperson said all individuals applying to set up free schools were vetted and it was not true to suggest, as Mr Roach had done, that free schools and academies were exempt from the Equality Act 2010 or the public sector equality duty.

She said: "We have always been absolutely clear there is no place in schools for extremist views of any kind.

"It is absolutely untrue to say that the department does not vet people wishing to set up schools.

"Free school applications are only approved if proposers can clearly demonstrate that the school will promote fundamental British values, including equality of opportunity for all.

"We expect schools to take immediate action and remove teachers who are found to be promoting inappropriate or extremist views or discriminating against different faiths or beliefs."

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