Heads seek help to shut `floodgate' of radicalisation

27th February 2015 at 00:00
Plea for training as schoolgirls are feared to have joined Isis

Headteachers are not being given sufficient training to spot students who are being radicalised by Islamic extremists, according to experts.

Sir Mike Tomlinson, who was appointed education commissioner for Birmingham after the Trojan Horse scandal, has joined headteachers' leaders to voice concern that senior staff do not have the tools to protect their students.

The call comes as three missing schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy in East London are feared to have travelled to parts of Syria controlled by Islamic State (Isis).

At the time TES went to press, the Metropolitan Police had issued a statement saying it believed that the students - Amira Abase, 15, Shamina Begum, 15, and Kadiza Sultana, 16 - had crossed the border after flying to Turkey. Another 15-year-old student from the same school travelled to Syria in December.

Under new statutory guidance issued by the Home Office, schools are expected to be on the lookout for signs of students being exposed to extremist ideology and to report any concerns they may have.

Education secretary Nicky Morgan wrote to Mark Keary, principal of Bethnal Green Academy, on Wednesday to offer her support, stating that she knew the school's staff were doing "everything possible" to keep pupils safe.

Sir Mike questioned how much more schools could do, but said that extra training was needed to help headteachers combat extremist ideologies. "The question of what are the tell-tale signs is difficult to identify, particularly as a lot of it might appear on social media, of which the school may see nothing," he said. "So it really is a very difficult challenge indeed.

"We have a specific programme in Birmingham but I don't think there is sufficient training [for all headteachers].

"I would dispute the idea that they are being asked to be police. Just as they would be concerned about a child being abused elsewhere, the role is to detect where the child may become vulnerable and to do whatever they can to try to address this situation."

On Monday, Mr Keary issued a statement about his pupils' disappearance, saying there was "no evidence" that radicalisation had taken place at the academy.

It is believed that the girls may have been recruited to join Isis via social media websites. Mr Keary made clear that use of social networks was "strictly regulated", with students unable to access Twitter or Facebook on school computers.

In her letter, Ms Morgan says she is sure the school is providing its students with the support needed to thrive in "a safe, tolerant environment where the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance are promoted and widely shared".

But headteachers' leaders have called on the government to offer more training to their members as they play an increasingly crucial role in the fight against terrorism.

"For most heads and teachers there is an important need for training," said Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. "We have just published our own guidance on the new requirement, but I do think there is a big demand for training and a big need for it."

Speaking to TES earlier this month at a conference about the duty on schools to promote British values, Joan Deslandes, headteacher of Kingsford Community School in East London, said leaders had been given no training on the new requirements.

"It is a duty that has been transferred into schools, that is being inspected by Ofsted, for which we've had very little guidance, training or insight," Ms Deslandes said. "We as educators were not trained to police our young people - we were trained to educate them and develop them.

"[Young people] are being radicalised right under the noses of adults in this country and [the question is], how do we shut that floodgate?"

The Department for Education said the government had done more than any other to tackle extremism. "Following the introduction of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, training will be provided to schools setting out what their responsibilities are regarding the prevention of radicalisation, how they can spot the signs and know what to do, and how to support children when these concerns arise."

`Vulnerable and disenfranchised'

Joan Deslandes, headteacher of Kingsford Community School in East London, believes it is imperative for schools and leaders to view the new obligation to combat extremism as a way of aiding community cohesion.

"It is important that headteachers receive comprehensive training to ensure that the safety and well-being of their pupils is maintained," she says. "Preventing radicalisation in schools is first and foremost a safeguarding issue.

"However, there are times when signals are not visible and a child's involvement in dangerous activity is beyond even a parent or guardian's field of vision and understanding."

Ms Deslandes adds that although schools have a role to play, society as a whole needs to consider what is encouraging "vulnerable and disenfranchised young people to enter into a lifestyle that may significantly harm their well-being".

Listen to a podcast

Countering extremism is discussed in a podcast available on the TES website, featuring Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti, historian Dr David Starkey, headteacher Joan Deslandes, and Dr Shuja Shafi, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. Find it at www.tesconnect.comBritish-values


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