Teacher 'spy' op faces the axe

18th February 2011 at 00:00
Duty to report children at risk of recruitment by Muslim extremists to end

A controversial Home Office counter-terrorism strategy in which teachers report Muslim pupils they suspect are at risk of being radicalised to the police is set to be abolished, The TES has learnt.

Ministers are reviewing the pound;12.5 million Channel project, which was designed to prevent young people being recruited by violent extremists, and are expected bring to an end any demands that classroom staff should "spy" on children.

The news that the initiative is likely to be scrapped comes in the week that the 77 inquiry heard that terrorist ringleader Mohammad Sidique Khan, a teaching assistant in Bradford, had attempted to indoctrinate pupils he worked with.

The inquiry has also heard that while Hasib Hussain, who blew up a Number 30 bus in the same attack, had been a "model student" at Matthew Murray School in Leeds, his exercise books were littered with "supportive" references to al-Qaeda.

Under the Channel scheme - which has proved unpopular with schools - teachers are asked to report vulnerable pupils to panels established by counter-terrorism police. So far 228 children have been identified as needing "mentorship or challenge" since Channel began in autumn 2007.

The project was originally piloted in Lancashire and the London borough of Lambeth in 2007, and was later extended to West Yorkshire, the Midlands, Bedfordshire and South Wales.

Last year, a Commons select committee report warned that Channel risked damaging relationships in the classroom and community because it made teachers look like they were "spying".

In addition, fears that the programme would create an "anti-Islamic" ethos meant that many of the 7,500 schools potentially involved in the scheme opted out.

Ted Cantle, professor at the Institute of Community Cohesion, which advises the Government, said ministers were unlikely to continue the Channel project in its current form.

"There will be a separation between counter-terrorist work and the effects of schools to integrate communities," said Professor Cantle, who chaired the Home Office community cohesion review team.

"I hope the present Government doesn't make the same mistakes, which have alienated communities. I don't think the identification of children `at risk' of terrorism will continue. It has caused an awful lot of trouble.

"Most teachers don't have an in-depth understanding of Muslim communities," he added.

Graham Robb, Youth Justice Board member and former headteacher, said senior police officers had made it clear that child safety procedures run by schools and social services were satisfactory for dealing with vulnerable children.

"The chances of the Department for Education pushing schools to have anything to do with violent extremism are low, and we don't even know if Ofsted will continue to inspect teachers' work on community cohesion," he said.

But James Brandon, head of research and communications at the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think-tank, said the current arrangements should be maintained.

"We believe the concept of schools becoming involved in this work is sound and that it makes sense," he said.

"Many teachers have felt it is not their job to tackle extremist behaviour if it involves religion. But that attitude means people are dealt with unequally."

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Everybody needs to play a part in preventing terrorism. Schools are no different from every other part of society."

A Home Office spokesman said: "We believe (the initiative) isn't working as well as it could and that is why we are reviewing it. We want a strategy that is effective and properly focused."

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