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College stages play about radicalisation to teach students about Prevent

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A new play, designed to alert students to the fact that one of their classmates might be sympathetic to terrorist organisations, is to be staged at a London college.

My Brothers and Sisters is a one-act play, telling the story of 15-year-old Shamilla and her older brother, Mohammed, who both suddenly go missing. It will be performed to staff and students at City of Westminster College, in order to make them aware of their legal responsibility, under the government’s new Prevent strategy, to identify young people at risk of radicalisation.

Playwright Craig Hanlon-Smith, who is also director of academic and continuing education at the college, was approached to write the play last February. This was in the immediate aftermath of the disappearance of the three Bethnal Green schoolgirls, who were later revealed to have left the country to join Isis.

“My initial response, as a 40-something-year-old white man, was, ‘I’m not sure I’m the right person to do this’,” Mr Hanlon-Smith said. “But, as someone working with young people, these girls could have crossed my path. Being radicalised is something that could happen to anyone. This story belongs to all of us, really.”

All schools and colleges in England became subject to the Prevent guidelines in July last year. Under these guidelines, staff are legally obliged to look out for and report early signs of radicalisation and extremism among students.

In order to demonstrate its commitment to this new duty, Westminster City College has dedicated the entire month of January to highlighting and addressing radicalisation.

My Brothers and Sisters will run from 11 to 22 January, with three performances for students each day. Two evening performances – on 14 and 21 January – are open to the public, and will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Mr Hanlon-Smith, as well as the play’s director and cast.

And Mr Hanlon-Smith has also produced a series of teaching resources to accompany the play. These cover topics such as online safety, as well as the issue of reporting suspicions to authorities. “There’s quite a culture among young people of not passing things on,” Mr Hanlon-Smith said. “They don’t want to be a snake or a grass.

“We have a responsibility to work with young people and engage the Prevent agenda. Radicalisation comes in many forms, and we’re all possibly susceptible to it.”

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