Extremism seems never to be out of the news these days.
A trainee teacher in Liverpool said recently she “could not see how a teacher could be a member of an extreme political party and at the same time promote equality and respect for diversity (so did Michael Gove by the way, but that’s another story…)
She said that if the police and prison service could ban membership of extreme political parties, she didn’t see why teaching couldn’t.
Before we consider some of the issues about this – just on a point of information – the contracts of police and prison officers disallow activity in any political party, even mainstream ones, presumably to assure the public of their political neutrality. So if you’re a police or prison officer, you can’t even be an active member of the Labour Party, let alone something like the BNP.
This is a different principle from banning teachers from being members of an ‘extreme’ political party because mere membership renders them unsuitable to practise their profession.
The open expression of political views, attitudes and beliefs to influence the minds of young people in the classroom – whether extreme or indeed mainstream – is neither appropriate nor professional and most teachers would readily accept that. We keep our private politics separate from our school lives and most of us don’t doubt that we can achieve that.
So why might we doubt the ability of someone with ‘extreme’ views to achieve the same degree of separation? Are they so ‘passionate’ or indeed ‘fanatical’ that they are incapable of adhering to professional values? Well… some ‘extremists’ may be incapable of it… but my experience also tells me that some teachers with ‘mainstream’ views are incapable of it too.
Another student asked me what I meant by ‘extreme’ and added, “Do you mean parties like… UKIP?” Now I don’t know what your definition of an extreme political party is – but UKIP doesn’t spring first to my mind. And that illustrates perfectly the difficulty of the issue – who defines what is ‘extreme’?
So to explore it a little deeper… here’s a question for you to consider: Do you think teachers should have their rights of political association with an extreme (but legal) party constrained because of their profession?
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk. His new book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.