Prevent is a key strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. Its aim is to identify and support people at risk of joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities.
But it is also widely misunderstood and regarded with suspicion in some quarters, hindering its ability to safeguard communities.
Prevent puts a duty on schools, among other authorities, to safeguard children from extremism. It is not a duty to report, which often lies at the heart of a number of myths about the programme.
Myth 1: The Prevent duty puts a greater burden on teachers
Reality: Schools have always sought to protect children from a wide range of risks and protecting them from the threats of extremism is no different from other safeguarding duties. Helping children understand potential safeguarding dangers and develop values of respect and tolerance has always been a core part of a school’s role.
Myth 2: The Prevent duty requires teachers to spy on pupils and stunts debate
Reality: Prevent aims to protect children in the same way as other safeguarding duties, such as protecting them from exposure to gangs, drug abuse and physical and sexual abuse. Prevent is not about spying, but is about identifying concerning behaviour and knowing how to appropriately refer pupils who are at risk of radicalisation so they can get the right support. Far from stopping students from discussing controversial issues, teachers can promote debates to help students understand the risks and develop the skills they need to withstand radicalisation, within the safe space of the classroom.
Myth 3: Schools are not confident in implementing the Prevent duty
Reality: The vast majority of schools are confident in their ability to fulfil their duties under Prevent. Surveys carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 83 per cent of school leaders were either very confident or fairly confident in implementing their Prevent duty, while nearly three quarters – 71 per cent – of classroom teachers felt the same. Only 6 per cent of senior leaders and 17 per cent of classroom teachers felt ‘not very confident’ or ‘not at all confident’.
Myth 4: There is no support available for schools to implement the Prevent duty
Reality: The Educate Against Hate website features a wide range of information, material and practical advice for teachers and school leaders, including ready-to-use lesson plans. The site also features information on what training there is available, including e-learning tools and face-to-face workshops.
Myth 5: The Prevent duty leads to schools overreacting
Reality: Teachers and school leaders are trusted to exercise their judgement about whether to refer a student to the appropriate services, in the same way as they are for other safeguarding issues, such as physical or sexual abuse.
Myth 6: The Prevent duty means teachers must report concerns about radicalisation to the police and are committing an offence if they don’t
Reality: There are no mandatory reporting requirements. Teachers should follow normal safeguarding procedures and act appropriately if they have concerns.
Myth 7: The Prevent duty stunts freedom of speech in colleges because students are afraid of expressing their beliefs
Reality: All education providers, whether schools, colleges or universities, have an important role to play in promoting debate and encouraging students to think critically about different views. Prevent does not change this, and the Educate Against Hate website offers resources specifically designed to help teachers encourage and manage such debates. Open debate within education plays a key role in helping young people to challenge views that are incompatible with our shared values. Prevent has not changed the importance of balancing free speech with the safety and security of staff and students, nor does it affect laws against hate speech.
Myth 8: Prevent is unnecessary. Teaching professionals already have a duty to safeguard and this is more than sufficient to tackle concerns around radicalisation.
Reality: Although teachers have always had safeguarding responsibilities, Prevent has raised awareness and understanding of radicalisation as a safeguarding risk. It has also provided information on how to identify children at risk and where to go for help, including training, advice and resources. This material aims to make schools more confident in dealing with the risk of radicalisation of their students.