Schools will be legally obliged to prevent pupils from becoming radicalised and potentially turning to terrorism, under new rules that come into effect tomorrow.
The Prevent guidelines will extend teachers’ existing safeguarding duties. So, in addition to looking out for signs of gang membership, drug use or abuse, teachers will be expected to spot the early signs of radicalisation and extremism.
And teachers will have a legal duty to prevent pupils from being drawn into terrorism. This includes not just violent extremism, but also non-violent extremism, which the guidelines says “can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism, and can popularise views which terrorists exploit”.
The new duties placed upon teachers include:
- assessing the risk of children being drawn into terrorism or extremism;
- being alert to changes in children's behaviour which could indicate that they are at risk of radicalisation;
- having robust safeguarding policies in place to protect these children;
- intervening wherever necessary and referring children to the appropriate authorities;
- understanding when it is appropriate to refer children to the Home Office's Channel programme, which provides support for children vulnerable to extremism;
- vetting visiting speakers – whether invited by staff or by pupils – for suitability;
- challenging extremist ideas which might be used to legitimise terrorism;
- ensuring that filters are in place to prevent pupils from accessing terrorist and extremist material online.
In addition, headteachers must ensure that staff have sufficient training to be able to carry out these duties.
Ofsted inspectors will continue to look at how effective schools are at keeping pupils safe from radicalisation and extremism, and what is done in response to suspected threats. Those academies and free schools judged by Ofsted to require significant improvement in this area may have their funding withdrawn.
A guidance document has also been issued to all primary and secondary headteachers today, elaborating on the duties laid out in the Prevent document. It suggests that schools should "promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils and, within this, fundamental British values".
But Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, has questioned whether statutory requirements are the most effective way to ensure pupils’ safety from extremism.
“Already, in many schools, Prevent is causing significant nervousness and confusion among teachers,” she said. “It risks closing down the very opportunities where the classroom can be used to develop democracy and explore human rights.
“It is vital that teachers are empowered and encouraged to use their professional judgement in how schools respond to individual incidents or concerns.”
Sally Bates, headteacher at Wadsworth Fields Primary School in Nottingham, said: “The vast majority of young people today are hard-working, enthusiastic individuals who make a positive contribution, but we have recently seen a few examples where some have been radicalised.
“Schools play an important role in promoting British values and developing morality in children, but more work needs to be done to train school staff how to respond. Partnership work with parents, faith leaders, police and local authorities will be most productive in helping young people accept that radicalisation, in whatever form, is not the answer to the problems they are experiencing."
Kenny Frederick, former head of George Green’s School, in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets, said that it was important to remember that radicalisation was not exclusive to any one religion or group of people.
“Schools are built on strong, trusting relationships with children and their parents and communities,” she said. “It would be too easy to damage those relationships if the pressure to report suspicions becomes too great.”
But this morning, education secretary Nicky Morgan said that the new duties should not pose any difficulty for schools. “Schools are perfectly capable,” she said. “They do this all the time. They work with young people who are at risk of being exploited or abused or suffering from neglect.”