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Heads offered counter-extremism training

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Headteachers will be offered training in how to prevent pupils from being drawn into extremism, following a recent string of high-profile cases of students being radicalised.

The series of seminars will take place over the summer and has been organised by the Association of School and College Leaders in response to what it described as "widespread concern over the impact of extremist propaganda on young people" and new counter-terrorism legislation.

Schools and colleges are among authorities required under new laws to have "due regard" to preventing people being drawn into terrorism.

The announcement of the seminars comes just days after claims were made by a headteacher in Birmingham that schools were still facing intimidation in the wake of the alleged Trojan Horse scandal, where hardline Muslims attempted to seize control of a number of school governing boards.

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, head of Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham, told the NAHT annual conference in Liverpool that the problems raised by the Trojan Horse scandal were "the tip of the iceberg”.

“We still have dead animals hung on the gates of schools, dismembered cats on playgrounds,” she said.

Concerns that schoolchildren could be radicalised were highlighted in February when it emerged that three teenage pupils from Bethnal Green Academy in east London were feared to have flown to Syria to join Islamic State.

ASCL deputy general secretary Malcolm Trobe said the seminars will cover all forms of extremism, including far-right ideologies and Islamophobia, as well as the threat of Islamic radicalisation.

Part of the sessions will help school leaders understand how "propaganda" on social media and the internet "grooms" young people into extremist ideologies, the union said.

Attendees will be given help understanding the duties placed on them and practical help and advice in safeguarding children in an environment which "celebrates equality and diversity".

Birmingham-based head Kamal Hanif will be one of the seminar leaders.

"Young people spend a lot of their time on the web and social media and they can easily get drawn into extremist ideas without access to a counter-narrative,” he said. "These seminars will help schools and, in turn, parents, who often have no idea that their children are accessing this sort of information, to pick up the signs and use the appropriate channels in dealing with these concerns.

"They will help to equip heads with the counter-narratives to some of the false claims put out by extremists."

Counter-extremism campaigner Sara Khan and ASCL parliamentary specialist Anna Cole will join Mr Hanif leading the seminars.

Ms Khan said: "It is important for schools to understand the current threat of extremism and how extremists prey on children both online and offline.

"The seminars will clarify and help guide schools how they can safeguard children from extremists who seek to exploit them."

ASCL will hold seven seminars in June and July in Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, London, Manchester, Leeds and Durham.

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