Patrick Roach, the deputy general secretary of NASUWT, one of the largest British teachers unions, is now facing blowback from the comments he made during the Labour Party Conference in Manchester. Roach claimed that by deregulating the education system, the government was creating an environment that would be congenial to the development of extremist and terrorist groups on British soil.
By allowing "free schools" — autonomous schools that are publicly funded, similar to charter schools in the US — to operate without oversight by local authorities, Roach says the door is open for groups espousing extremist ideologies to open their own primary and secondary schools to brainwash students and recruit them to the cause.
The Daily Telegraph reports that fiery rhetoric isn't new to Roach, who last year called the education policies undertaken by the Government a "crime against humanity." His comments were specifically targeted at the recently passed Education Act.
But the Department for Education rounded on his latest comments, saying it was "absolutely untrue" that it would allow extremist groups to run schools, insisting it had rigorous procedures in place to vet applicants.
A source close to Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said: "These are absurd and inflammatory claims which are simply not backed up by facts. I suspect Mr Roach now regrets making them. If not, he should do.
The words used by Roach might sound jarring to the ears of a typical Labour voter, but his audience at the Unite Against Fascism meeting found the sentiments entirely to their liking. He also said that the government policies risked returning to the time when schools were rigidly racially and socially segregated.
Mr Roach is quoted as saying that the Government wanted 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," he said. "And we need to find a way of challenging and confronting that."
Although both men addressed issues of education during their conference speeches, Roach's remarks were in stark contrast to the tone set by Labour Party leader Ed Miliband. Multiculturalism and diversity featured heavily in Miliband's speech, but he focused less on the current Government policies – although a few swipes at the Tory elitism made their way into the speech – and more on what Labour could bring to the table.
Labour wants to work to provide a real alternative to those who don't end up going to university after graduating from secondary school. And in contrast to the educational initiative championed by Tony Blair meant to increase the percentage of British students enrolling in university, Miliband is instead calling for improvement in vocational education offered to students between the ages of 14 and 18.