‘Those who denounce Prevent as Islamophobic are themselves dangerous’

9th November 2017 at 12:09
If we fail to tackle extremism when we encounter it, then we fail our children and their communities, writes the CEO of a large multi-academy trust

One of the fundamental responsibilities that we have as educators is in loco parentis: we protect our pupils from harm, in whatever form. Safeguarding is so fundamentally hardwired into what we do, and yet for some in our sector, our duties under Prevent cause a sense of unease and discomfort. Two years on from those duties coming into effect, critics still regularly denounce Prevent as tantamount to spying, or worse "Islamophobia".

But these criticisms themselves are dangerous. By putting a question mark in a teacher’s mind about whether to report concerns they might have, making them second guess their judgements, could put a pupil in real harm.

Physical bullying, online victimisation, sexual abuse, FGM: as unpleasant as these are, they are real challenges that we all face in our schools. By and large, teachers have accepted that these challenges all need to be confronted head-on. Radicalisation is no different. As difficult as it is, if we fail to tackle extremism when we encounter it, then we fail our children, their families and our communities.

An integrated approach

It is true that the safeguarding landscape has changed considerably during the last 10 years, but it is unrealistic to expect teachers to be able to take on new responsibilities overnight. Teachers need support to be able to recognise and then act on concerns over radicalisation. In too many schools, “British Values” has become just another box to tick when preparing for the next Ofsted visit. It’s not enough to have a display case in a prominent position in school focusing on multi-culturalism. This sort of window-dressing doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of how to begin to tackle this – and yet that is what so many schools fall back on.

Instead, where it is done well, schools have taken a more integrated approach – introducing Prevent across the curriculum, from history through to drama, using teaching to build pupils’ resilience to extremism. There are great resources out there that help with this – such as the Home Office’s “Educate Against Hate” website – but not enough schools know they even exist.

At my Mat, REAch2, one of the core values we hold dear is leadership and responsibility. In essence, this means we don’t shy away from the difficult conversations or tough choices. We encourage healthy debate on topical and contentious issues. We teach our children how to think for themselves so they can question extremist narratives, whether that is the poisonous ideology of the Far Right, or the oppression of fundamentalist Islam.

Prevent duty

It’s perhaps worth noting that nowhere in the Prevent duty is a teacher required by law to report students they are concerned about. I think this is the right approach: mandating action by law should not be needed, in our everyday care of duty, teachers should raise any concerns if they feel a pupil is at risk. In the same way that we are trusted to report any concerns, so too should we trust that our concerns will be handled with the same sensitivity and professionalism that safeguarding teams apply to any other form of harm, thinking always and only of the child’s best interests.

Since Prevent was introduced, around a dozen cases have been referred, such were the concerns of staff in our academies. Some of these have been serious and indeed have resulted in a referral to Channel for multi-agency support to divert the individual away from radicalisation. Others were concerns that deserved further examination, but that were ultimately not material. But I for one would far rather my colleagues felt comfortable enough to raise concerns where they have them, instead of looking back on a nagging doubt with ever-lasting regret.

Sir Steve Lancashire is the Founder and Chief Executive of REAch2, the largest primary academy trust in the country: www.reach2.org. Sir Steve is also a Trustee of SINCE 9/11 – an education charity set up on the tenth anniversary of 11 September 2001. The charity offers free education programmes created by UCL’s Institute of Education for all secondary schools, focusing on teaching the events, causes and consequences of 9/11 in an attempt to create a better, peaceful and harmonious future.

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