The government’s Prevent duty is misguided, counterproductive, damaging to young people and wrecking trust between schools and parents, argues Bill Bolloten
PARENTS, TEACHERS AND ACTIVISTS formed the Education Not Surveillance Network in response to the Prevent duty being made a statutory requirement for all schools and early years settings on 1 July 2015. It requires them to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
Schools are now assessed by Ofsted to ensure that they implement the Prevent duty. Ofsted requires inspectors to see evidence that there is ‘a clear approach to implementing the Prevent duty and keeping children and learners safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism’. This means inspectors want evidence that teachers have received training on Prevent, assess risks to children and can spot signs of a young person becoming ‘radicalised’.
This model of ‘radicalisation’ is based on the idea that children are vulnerable in ways that make them more likely to engage in terrorism. The idea, which has no basis in evidence, is that schools should be identifying signs of such vulnerabilities so it can halt the process of ‘radicalisation’.
A recent example is Camden’s Safeguarding Children Board’s advice for parents and carers. Entitled Keeping Children And Young People Safe From Radicalisation And Extremism, it provides indicators of why young people may be drawn to ‘extremist’ views including:
• They are trying to make sense of world events;
• It makes them feel a sense of identity or belonging or being part of something;
• They are looking for adventure and excitement
• They have a personal grievance or experience of racism or discrimination and feel they want to change things.
The guidance says a specific sign of radicalisation is ‘appearing angry about government policies, especially foreign policy’. Prevent training in schools aims to get teachers to identify signs of radicalisation in their pupils, despite no evidence to support terrorism being correlated with political views, identity and emotional wellbeing. Yet this model is now being driven into schools, leading to a high risk of mistakes and even abuse.
By requiring schools to put pupils under surveillance, casting particular suspicion on Muslim pupils, and profiling them for behaviours that have no real connection to criminal behaviour, Prevent confuses the different roles of teachers and the police and draws educational practitioners into becoming the eyes and ears of the counter-terrorism system. It is no surprise then that the number of referrals made from the education sector to the government’s anti-radicalisation scheme, Channel, has soared from 20 in 2012-13 to 424 in 2014-15. Half of all radicalisation referrals now come from education, which means more than two pupils are now referred every school day.
The Education Not Surveillance Network has a range of concerns about Prevent, including how it is fuelling negative stereotyping, anti- Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia. Research shows many young people in Britain have negative and prejudiced attitudes towards Muslims.
Earlier this year, a survey of 6,000 schoolchildren – the largest of its kind –undertaken by Show Racism the Red Card, found that negative attitudes towards Muslims are widespread. Nearly a third believed “Muslims are taking over England”, while 41% disagreed, and on average respondents thought Muslims made up 36% of the population, as opposed to the true gure of 5%. Almost half agreed there are poor relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in England.
Prevent is making it harder for teachers and pupils to discuss sensitive and controversial issues in schools, if pupils fear they will be profiled or put under suspicion if they speak openly.
Arun Kundnani, the author of The Muslims are Coming!, recently commented: ‘The great risk is creating an atmosphere of self- censorship – where young people don’t feel free to express themselves in schools or youth clubs or at the mosque. If they feel angry or have a sense of injustice but nowhere to engage in a democratic process and in a peaceful way, then that’s the worst climate to create for terrorist recruitment.’
Positive alternatives to Prevent should promote education based on the values of respect, co-operation and togetherness, celebrating cultural diversity and equality. This provides an opportunity for us to think about the values we want all our children to develop and the education we aspire to.
Prevent represents a securitised approach to safeguarding children and young people, profiling them for their views, their appearance or their faith. This cannot be genuine safeguarding, nor part of an inclusive vision for our schools. We should all be concerned if Muslim pupils and students start to feel they don’t belong in schools and colleges, which are the places where they should feel the most safe.