Imams asked into schools

30th May 2008 at 01:00
Teachers and clerics to be part of new drive against extremists

Teachers and clerics to be part of new drive against extremists

Schools will be asked to help "win hearts and minds" in the battle against violent extremists. Ministers believe that lessons from Muslim clerics could steer pupils away from radicalisation.

The Government will suggest next week that heads draft in British-born imams to teach citizenship so that pupils learn about the Koran and Islam in the context of a multicultural society.

Officials say the lessons could include "discussing rights of neighbours, the sacredness of life or the importance of equal opportunities".

The idea is one of the solutions for schools suggested in the Prevent Strategy, to be published in conjunction with the Home Office, and aimed at stopping people from supporting extremists.

It comes in the wake of last week's Exeter restaurant bombing, which police suspect was the work of a British-educated convert to Islam, and the July 7, 2005 London attacks by home-grown terrorists, including a teaching assistant.

Writing in today's TES, Ed Balls, the Children, Schools and Familes Secretary, said: "A very small number of young people of school age may already be at risk of being drawn into criminal activity inspired by violent extremists. Education can be a powerful weapon against this."

Department officials say using Saturday sessions run by extended schools to offer extra specialist maths and science classes could be another opportunity for imams to deliver "faith based citizenship lessons" on Islam.

They stress the extra classes would be funded through local authority rather than school budgets.

The National Union of Teachers met fierce opposition in March when it suggested Muslim clerics and other faith leaders should be sent into every state school as an alternative to having specific faith schools. Heads' leaders and other critics warned this could allow extremists to target pupils.

But the Government believes that if the imams are British born they will be steeped in the multicultural values of Britain.

Sylvia Jones, head of Valentines High, Ilford, where 40 per cent of pupils have Muslim backgrounds, was consulted about the Prevent Strategy and has had a local imam, Haroon Patel, visit her pupils for the last five years. She stressed her approach was more subtle than the Government's. "Imam Haroon's role is nothing to do with the prevention of terrorism. It is to act as a positive role model," she said.

"But if you do include people from diverse communities in the work of your school that will create a harmonious atmosphere where students are unlikely to be seduced by extremism."

Imam Haroon said: "I don't think this idea has been thought through because at the end of the day to avoid extremism you will need to do much more than sending imams into schools. Families need to be involved as well."

He said imams should be used in RE lessons involving all faiths so no one felt targeted or excluded.

Next week's strategy will advise schools, police, and local authorities on how they can work together to combat the threat.

More detailed guidance for schools will be given in the autum.

Meanwhile, a series of summer conferences will allow young people to debate extremism.

Ed Balls, page 29.

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