What is the Prevent meant to do?
“Intelligence indicates that a terrorist attack in our country is ‘highly likely’. Experience tells us that the threat comes not just from foreign nationals but also from terrorists born and bred in Britain. It is therefore vital that our counter-terrorism strategy contains a plan to prevent radicalisation and stop would-be terrorists from committing mass murder,” says the Government’s strategy document. It says the UK faces a range of terrorist threats, the most serious of which is currently from Al Qa’ida and associated organisations. Such organisations seek to recruit people to their cause: the percentage of people prepared to support violent extremism in the UK is very small. “It is significantly greater amongst young people,” says the document.
Prevent is one of four strands in CONTEST, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
Is it just about tackling al Qa’ida terrorism?
No “We believe that Prevent should be flexible enough to address the challenge posed by terrorism of any kind. Preventprogrammes should be able to support people being drawn into all forms of terrorism. To take a single example, work in schools to discuss and consider what terrorism is should look at terrorism in the round and not just at Al Qa’ida. It is vital to understand how, historically, terrorism has drawn recruits from all parts of societies and from many faith groups.”
Does the Government think there is a problem with children being radicalised in school?
Not in a systematic way. “Of the 127 convictions for terrorism-related offences associated with Al Qa’ida, 11 have been committed by people in the age range of 15-19.
“We have seen no systematic attempt to recruit or radicalise people in full time education in this country, either in the state or independent sector. But we do know that some people who are supportive of terrorist groups and ideologies have sought and sometimes gained positions in schools or in groups which work closely with young people. One of the 7/7 bombers, for example, worked as a learning mentor with children at a school in Leeds.”
It adds: “The youngest person convicted of terrorism-related offences in this country in recent years was 16. He was 15 at the time when he was recruited by a terrorist group. At least 3 separate Al Qa’ida-related operations in this country (in 2003, 2005 and 2006) have involved people who, to varying extents, became involved in extremism while they were at school.”
The Government says the majority of referrals to its Channel programme, which identifies and supports people at risk of radicalisation, have been under 25, with most aged between 15 and 19. Very few have been younger.
Is there any evidence of problems in particular settings?
The report notes allegations that “a minority of independent faith schools have been actively promoting views that are contrary to British values, such as intolerance of other cultures and gender inequality” and other reports that “some independent faith schools have allowed extremist views to be expressed by staff, visitors or pupils. In 2009, Ofsted found that 8 out of 51 independent faith schools surveyed were found to be displaying teaching materials that had a bias in favour of one particular group. Some teaching materials were also seen to contain biased or incorrect information about other religions.”
The document also refers to concerns that some madrassahs, Muslim supplementary schools attended by perhaps 100,000 children, promote a “highly conservative” version of Islam and promulgate “extremist views”. A BBC Panorama investigation in November 2010 reported that some madrassahs were using textbooks with anti-Semitic and homophobic messages, says the document, concluding: “The Government is currently considering ways to stop children coming into contact with material of this kind in and out of school provision.“ The Department for Communities and Local Government has worked with the DfE to develop resources for madrassahs, called Islam and Citizenship Education. The aim was to give teachers the tools to show young Muslims that their faith is compatible with wider shared values and that being a Muslim is also compatible with being a good citizen.
Is the Government taking any action to monitor or outlaw any extremism in schools?
Yes. It has just set up a Preventing Extremism Unit, which includes counter-terrorism experts, within the DfE, which will “minimise the risk that unsuitable providers can set up Free Schools.”
Is the Government concerned that Free Schools might be set up by people promoting extremist views?
The strategy does not say this, but the Government clearly determined to minimise this risk.
It says: “The unit will work with partners across Government and beyond [and will] conduct effective financial and non-financial ‘due diligence’ to minimise the risk that unsuitable providers can set up Free Schools. The unit is expected to become a centre of excellence of its kind for due diligence on individuals and groups who may use education as their route into radicalisation. Free Schools must be inclusive. A rigorous process will minimise the risk of unsuitable providers. Applicants will also need to demonstrate that they would support UK democratic values including support for individual liberties within the law, equality, mutual tolerance and respect.”The unit will also work to ensure that extremists do not gain control of academies or other publicly-funded schools.
What about monitoring of other types of school?
The strategy notes changes to Ofsted regulations to focus inspections on education and exempt outstanding schools from routine visits. It says the Chief Inspector will be able to re-inspect any school causing concern, and that the organisation will work with the DfE to ensure its inspectors “have the necessary knowledge and expertise to determine whether extremist and intolerant beliefs are being promoted in a school and then to take appropriate action.”
The strategy notes that the duty to promote community cohesion is retained by state schools, although Ofsted’s duty to report on this is about to be removed. Publicly funded schools remain under a duty to promote community cohesion. “However, the stronger focus on teaching and learning and a continuing focus on provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development will enable inspectors to identify inappropriate practice, including the promotion of messages that undermine community cohesion.” Inspections will also “give due weight to schools’ activities in support of our shared values”.
In addition, consideration is being given to strengthening Independent School Standards to ensure that schools “understand their obligations”. Ofsted has concluded that there is a lack of clarity about the language of the regulations. “If the regulations are not clear, or are not clearly understood, there are clear risks that schools might not fully understand their obligations and that extremist or intolerant messages may go undetected by inspectors. This is of particular concern, given that open-source reporting has suggested that extremism may be more of a problem within some of these institutions than in publicly-funded schools,” says the strategy.
The Charity Commission will also be monitoring schools which have charitable status.
What about individual teachers?
The strategy adds that the new set of standards for teachers, currently the subject of an independent review and work within the DfE “should better enable schools to take action against staff who demonstrate unacceptable views.” The new set of standards will “clarify obligations regarding extremism”.
What are individual schools expected to do?
The details are not spelled out in the strategy, but it is promised that the DfE will “ensure that teachers and other school staff know what to do when they see signs that a child is at risk of radicalisation and continue to collaborate and encourage collaboration with policing and the development of products for teachers.” Schools will also be working with children’s services and other agencies to “identify children at risk of radicalisation and take necessary steps to protect them from harm.” The Prevent strategy makes clear that this is not about spying on particular communities.
What material is currently available to schools?
The Department for Education has a dedicated Prevent team which has created a range of initiatives. These included the Toolkit intended to help schools prevent “violent extremism”. This raised awareness of the risks from violent extremism and provided guidance on developing a positive and inclusive ethos that championed democratic values and human rights, and was later followed by a Workbook containing more practical advice. This was based on the Ofsted SEF and linked the Prevent material to other school safety and improvement policies.
What sort of activities have been happening in schools?
A third of the money spent in the first year of Prevent went on general educational activities, primarily presentations to schools about Islamic belief and culture, and addressing the under achievement of Pakistani boys.
How many schools are aware of Prevent?
A survey conducted by Ipsos MORI this year indicated that 84 per cent of schools know somethingabout their role in preventing violent extremism and 75 per cent regard this role as important.
However a significant minority (20%) disagreed. Seventy per cent of schools felt they needed more training and information to build resilience to radicalisation. The information sources most commonly used by schools were DfE and LA guidance, and the media. A quarter had contacted the police for information and support.
What do pupils think?
“According to a survey by the UK Youth Parliament in August 2008, 94% of young people said they thought schools were the best environment in which to discuss terrorism. We agree. Schools can facilitate understanding of wider issues within the context of learning about the values on which our society is founded and our system of democratic government. These are important for reasons which go far beyond Preventbut they connect to the Preventagenda.”
What proportion of local authorities have been working on Prevent with schools?
Local authorities increasingly recognise this as a safeguarding issue, and a DfE assessment in March 2010 found 61 per cent of LA children’s services, up from 11 per cent the previous year, were “actively engaged” in Prevent work with a specific plan to engage schools “though this does not necessarily reflect on whether the quality and scope of that engagement is appropriate,” adds the strategy.
What about colleges?
They are now a priority for the Prevent strategy. “We note that much less has been done with further education colleges, although young people at college may be as vulnerable to radicalisation as those attending university and for the same reasons. This is a gap in activity which we will also address as a priority,” says the strategy, expressing concern that some FE and HE institutions have “so far failed to engage in Prevent.”
“This lack of engagement must be addressed. We believe that staff in every university and college have a responsibility for the welfare of individual students as well as the wider student body. University and college staff should have access to support if they suspect one of their students may be becoming radicalised. We will support the sector to improve their capacity in this area, training staff to recognise the signs of radicalisation and helping them improve their awareness of the help that is available.”
The document says universities and colleges of further education will need guidance, information and best practice to address these issues, for example, no single group should be allowed to control prayer facilities on any campus. Strategies for this sector will usually be led by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
What strategies are being put in place for colleges and universities?
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will:
help universities and colleges better understand the risk of radicalisation on and off campus and secure wider and more consistent support from institutions of most concern;
work to ensure that all institutions where there is risk of radicalisation recognise their duty of care to students and take reasonable steps to minimise this risk;
support local police forces in working with those institutions assessed to be at the greatest risk;
create better links between universities, colleges, local authorities and communities engaged in Prevent work;
establish links between universities and colleges and local programmes to support people vulnerable to radicalisation;
appoint regional champions in each of the nine regions in England and host a central point of information where practitioners can share information, advice and good practice;
fund the NUS to undertake a programme of work to ensure that their sabbatical officers and full time staff are fully trained and equipped to manage their responsibilities under charities legislation and are able to implement the NUS’ guidance on external speakers;
work closely with UUK and the Association of Colleges to provide advice, guidance and support particularly to universities and colleges that are in Preventpriority areas;
work with the police and other partners to ensure that student societies and university and college staff have the right information and guidance to enable them to make decisions about external speakers.
What about students using the internet at school and college?
“We are unable to determine the extent to which effective filtering is in place in schools and public libraries. … We want to ensure that users in schools, libraries, colleges and Immigration Removal Centres are unable to access unlawful material.”
Are particular areas of England being targeted under this initiative?
Yes, but all local areas are expected to have a partnership “to take forward work on Prevent” at “a level which is proportionate to local risk”. Local authorities need to be able to draw on information to ensure that they understand the local risks which Prevent is intended to address.
“Wherever possible, the partnership should comprise social services, policing, children’s services, youth services, UKBA, representatives from further and higher education, probation services, schools, local prisons, health and others as required by local need. Partnership working should not be restricted by local authority area boundaries.”
The Home Office will fund Prevent co-ordinators in “local areas of particular importance.”
Until now Prevent has been targeted in areas based on demographic information.
The new strategy lists 25 priority areas which are felt to be at higher risk, but it is stressed that there will be regular reviews. They are: Barking and Dagenham; Birmingham; Blackburn with Darwen; Bradford; Brent; Camden; Derby; Ealing; Hackney; Hammersmith and Fulham; Haringey; Kensington and Chelsea; Lambeth; Leeds; Leicester; Lewisham; Luton; Manchester; Newham; Redbridge; Stoke-on-Trent; Tower Hamlets; Waltham Forest; Wandsworth and Westminster