Pupils as young as 5 are being exposed to violent extremism online, teacher trainers have revealed.
But efforts to tackle the problem are being hindered by a “dearth” of resources for primary teachers and complacency in some schools, government advisers said.
Draft new Department for Education guidance on implementing the government’s Prevent anti-terror strategy, seen by TES, suggests schools could start introducing topics such as radicalisation and extremism to pupils from the age of 4.
But Ann Connor, a DfE specialist adviser on counter-extremism, said she was concerned that primary schools do not have the teaching resources they need to do this.
“What we have noticed, as a team, is there is a dearth of anything really below about Year 8,” she said.
The official was speaking at a conference in Birmingham where Sara Khan, co-founder of the counter-extremism organisation Inspire, which has trained thousands of teachers, warned: “Radicalisation can begin at a much, much, younger age [than 12].”
She revealed the concerns expressed to her by one primary head as an example of the extremism that infants were being exposed to. “On the one hand, he was dealing with a pupil – a white six-year-old boy whose father was a member of the BNP and who was encouraging his son to watch violent videos against Muslims and encouraging acts of violence against Muslims,” she said.
“But the same headteacher also told me that he was also dealing with a case of a Muslim five-year-old girl whose father was making her watch beheadings online. That is a common scenario I hear. The reality of teachers, how they are having to deal with parents who are in some cases radicalising their own children.”
Schools minister Lord Nash admitted the government knew that “some teachers lack confidence in implementing the Prevent duty”.
“We don’t want teachers to feel isolated in tackling these issues,” he told the same Birmingham conference, organised by the Since 9/11 educational charity last month.
“In recognition of the important role that schools play in tackling extremism, we are exploring what additional resources we can make available to schools to support them.”
DfE advisers have revealed they are concerned that some schools are not taking the risk of extremism among their pupils seriously and are failing to take account of what they may be exposed to online.
“They say, ‘We don’t have any problems with that because we are not in that kind of bit of the country’,” Ms Connor said.
Her colleague Val McGregor added: “Children are very vulnerable. E-safety is probably something that is the biggest risk.”
This is an edited article from the 10 February edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents.