Schools should offer anti-extremist education for all, not spy on those at risk

by Paul Thomas (2015)

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With British schools now under a legal duty to monitor children’s risk of radicalisation, teachers now have the daunting prospect of planning how they are going to go about it.

Although the government’s Prevent strategy has been in place since 2007, it’s only recently that schools have come to the forefront of anti-terror concerns following the combination of the threat from Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the fall-out from the “Trojan Horse” affair in Birmingham schools last year. But the “radicalisation” which schools are now being asked to spot is a highly problematic concept and any policy built purely around trying to identify it is going to face difficulties.

In addressing what schools should do now, we need to look at what support they are currently getting under Prevent. The police strategy uses a useful “triangle” model for young people that separates young people into three groups: a general group at the base, a middle section of young people seen in potential need of targeting because of influences from their peer group or community that may make them vulnerable and an “acute” group of “at risk” young people at the apex.

Currently, the Prevent strategy asks schools to really only focus on those at the apex. It is doing this through training for staff called WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent) to help them spot pupils showing signs of vulnerability to radicalisation. If they do spot something, they are advised to refer them to the Channel counter-radicalisation counselling scheme. There is little or no Prevent focus on the other two groups of young people and this is highly problematic.

Focusing on spotting radicalisation will only ever have limited success and it inevitably involves increased security through police involvement and the worrying potential for a negative and stigmatising focus on Muslim students. Recent clumsy measures that have come to light, including schools that are only monitoring black and minority ethnic pupils and primary schools that have asked pupils to fill in radicalisation-seeking surveys, highlight how such a focus can be counter-productive.


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