Education & Family

Teachers' fears over Prevent anti-terror programme

Tributes to London Bridge victims Image copyright AFP/Getty

Some teachers in England have expressed concern about a law requiring them to report pupils who show signs of being drawn into violent extremism.

Two years ago, schools were required to join the fight against radicalisation under the so-called Prevent duty.

The first detailed report into the response of teachers and college staff found concerns about increased stigmatisation of Muslim students.

But teachers are more confident about reporting cases to the authorities.

The Prevent programme was criticised by some in the wake of the recent London Bridge attack.

Reality Check: What is the Prevent strategy?

The research involved 70 education staff across 14 schools and colleges in West Yorkshire and London and a further 225 who took part in a national survey.

It looked at professional experiences of implementing Prevent and found little evidence of widespread opposition among educationalists.

But the study by Coventry, Huddersfield and Durham universities, found there were concerns about Muslim students becoming stigmatised.

British values?

One of the researchers, Dr Joel Busher, from Coventry University, said: "Widespread and sometimes acute concerns about possible feelings of stigmatisation among Muslim students highlight an urgent need for systematic evaluation of how, if at all, the duty has impacted on student experiences."

The teaching of fundamental British values was also questioned and, in particular, the labelling of these values as "British".

"Linking the duty to the promotion of 'fundamental British values' - and, in particular, the pressure on schools and colleges to emphasise the 'Britishness' of these values - is often seen as more problematic, both hampering effective curriculum work around shared values and democratic citizenship," the report said.

But school and college staff had also developed strategies to try to counter any possible "chilling effect" on free speech in schools and colleges, the report says.

However, researchers say schools and colleges now see Prevent as an extension of their role to keep pupils safe.

'Far-right activity'

And there has been a "dramatic" increase in the number of referrals by school and college staff.

The Prevent duty, introduced in July 2015, required "specified authorities" such as schools, colleges, prisons and NHS Trusts to have "due regard to the need to have to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism".

When concerns are raised about an individual, their case is assessed by a local panel and when appropriate, referred to a support programme known as Channel.

Channel then works by trying to divert people away from extremist activities.

According to the latest Home Office statement, roughly a third of referrals now relate to concerns about far-right activity.

Responding to the report, Security Minister Ben Wallace told the BBC that 150 people had been dissuaded from fighting in Syria because of Prevent.

He added that Prevent referrals had "gone up steadily".

"Before there was a duty it would have been very sporadic and the numbers would have been low in some parts of the country and high in others," he said.

"We are trying to engage people and I'm really heartened that in the report teachers understand that it is not spying, it's actually just having a set of guidelines to make sure they safeguard the people they are responsible for," he added.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "The Prevent duty is about helping to keep our children safe and equip them with the knowledge to question extremist and radical views.

"This report shows that not only is there widespread understanding of this but schools and colleges are confident about how to deliver it in the classroom.