Ofsted: FE providers are 'falling short' in protecting learners from extremism

The inspectorate reports cases of learners viewing terrorist propaganda and visiting firearms websites in college, as it calls for institutions to ensure that they comply with the Prevent agenda

Will Martin

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Nearly half of FE colleges lack the adequate safeguards to keep their learners safe online, according to an Ofsted report published today.

The report, which examines how well further education and skills providers are implementing the government's Prevent duty, found that out of 83 colleges and providers visited by Ofsted inspectors between November 2015 and May 2016, more than half lacked the sufficient safeguards required to keep learners safe while using the internet.

Inspectors reported cases of learners bypassing their college’s security settings to access websites selling firearms or promoting terrorist ideology, and one incident of a learner viewing a terrorist propaganda video. 

"Too often, policies and procedures for the appropriate use of IT were poor or did not work in practice…In the weakest providers, learners said they could bypass security settings and access inappropriate websites, unchallenged by staff or their peers. This included websites that promote terrorist ideology and that sell firearms. In one such provider, a learner had accessed a terrorist propaganda video showing a beheading,” the report states.

Inspectors found evidence that some providers were not carrying out adequate background checks on external speakers, and that partnership work between local authorities and colleges was sometimes "ineffective".

‘A tick-box approach’

The report finds that the majority of colleges and providers visited had implemented the Prevent duty guidance "well". However, inspectors noted that some providers "have adopted a ‘tick-box’ approach" to the duty.

The Prevent duty came into force on 1 July 2015, after which it became a requirement for FE staff  to "have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism".

In September 2015, a survey by the ATL teaching union found that, less than a month before the Prevent duty came into force, 45 per cent of lecturers surveyed had not been given any training on it.

Paul Joyce, deputy director for FE and skills at Ofsted, said: "It is reassuring that over half of the providers visited for this survey were found to be making good progress in implementing the Prevent duty, and are ultimately keeping their learners and local communities safe.

"However, it is concerning that in some colleges and providers the progress made in implementing the duty has been slow. It is worrying that inspectors saw examples of poor practice that I’ve no doubt would shock parents and learners alike. I am calling on providers, local authorities and the government to take on board Ofsted’s recommendations. We need to work together to ensure that we keep learners safe and protect them from all forms of extremism."

Paramount importance

David Corke, director of education and skills policy at the Association of Colleges, said: "The safeguarding of students is of paramount importance for further education and sixth form colleges. In these challenging times, the Prevent duty remains at top of their agenda and many see the duty as an extension of their safeguarding responsibility.

"Colleges have been working incredibly hard to implement the duty and they will continue to do so as the threat of radicalisation and terrorism is ever present. Ofsted’s report rightly identifies the good progress being made in colleges and commends the quality of staff training."

University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt said that Prevent "risks doing more harm than good by shutting down debate on contentious topics and creating mistrust between teachers and students".

"College teachers have always taken their duty of care to students very seriously, so the focus on implementing the Prevent duty is both unnecessary and potentially counterproductive," she added. "The government’s vague definitions of British values and local authorities’ inconsistent advice have offered little help to providers struggling to understand the duty while still protecting open discussion and academic freedom."

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Will Martin picture

Will Martin

Will is a junior reporter at TES

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