New 'surveillance powers' fail to live up to tabloid billing

10th October 2008 at 01:00
Media storm stems from guidance over warning signs of extremism

Teachers have been alarmed by reports this week that they have been given new "surveillance powers" and are being asked to "spy" on pupils at risk of extremism. But there is no cause for alarm - the reports are untrue. There is no new "terror code" urging the monitoring of pupils.

The media storm stems from the publication of a Government "toolkit" designed to help schools contribute to preventing violent extremism. The guidance does not give teachers any new powers or responsibilities. What it does do is offer warning signs of extremism that teachers can look out for.

But everything is couched in terms of what schools can rather than what they should or must do. Teachers leaders were consulted and the document has the broad support of all the main unions.

Why is the Government expecting me to spy on my pupils?

It isn't. The Learning Together to be Safe document merely suggests that teachers should challenge unacceptable bullying or racist behaviour and support pupils who may be vulnerable to extremism. It lists possible warning signs and gives advice on the action that schools can take if they spot them.

But these still seem like extra duties

The Government says they come under the existing duty of care for all adults working with young people. The document is non-statutory guidance, which means it is a resource that schools can draw on if they want, but not one they have to follow to the letter.

What are the warning signs it lists?

Graffiti, writing or artwork promoting extremist messages. Pupils accessing extremist material online. Parental reports of changes in behaviour, friendships or actions, and requests for help. Reporting of problems affecting pupils in other schools. Pupils "voicing opinions drawn from extremist ideologies and narratives". The use of extremist or "hate terms" to exclude others or incite violence.

Does it give any real-life examples?

Yes, some very alarming recent ones. They include a primary pupil talking in the playground about their admiration for the "77 martyrs" and the "duty of all true Muslims to prepare for jihad war as we grow up".

In another example a supply teacher left a book in a school library that talked about martyrdom and included the phrase "this indicates that seeking to be killed and pursuing martyrdom are legitimate and praiseworthy acts".

So this is just about Muslim extremism then?

No, that was one of the criticisms made about earlier drafts. The document now contains references to far-right racism, such as pupils revealing they have been involved in physical attacks on children outside school "to make them go back to their own country".

But the Association of Teachers and Lecturers believe it could have been broadened out further still to include intolerance towards gays and lesbians and violence from animal rights extremists.

Am I expected to report pupils I suspect to the authorities?

No, not necessarily. The "toolkit" sets out a range of options available to schools. They might decide that in-school "pupil welfare" strategies are sufficient or they could contact outside agencies to help them decide on the size of the risk.

This all sounds very familiar

It should do. An earlier draft received a lot of publicity on its release in June. The final version was published on Wednesday.

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