But unions warn that community intelligence is beyond remit of schools
Schools are being asked to help spot pupils who are vulnerable to radicalisation, under new guidance designed to reduce the threat of home-grown terrorism.
The Prevent Strategy, published by the Government this week, says teachers who come into contact with those at risk of being seduced by violent extremists should receive extra training. "If schools have concerns that a pupil may be exposed to extremist material or influences, they can offer support through mentoring," the document advises.
The guidance follows the suggestion by government ministers last week that British-born imams should go into schools to teach citizenship, so that pupils learn about the Koran and Islam "in the context of a multicultural society".
The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has since said that the Muslim clerics would be carefully vetted.
The new guidance warns that "apologists for violent extremism very often target individuals who, for a range of reasons, are vulnerable to their messages". Factors that could put them at risk include peer pressure, absence of positive role models, identity crisis, links to criminality and violence, exposure to traumatic events, changing circumstances such as migration and asylum, and a sense of isolation.
A DCSF spokesman said it was not a question of schools "singling out individuals". The strategy was designed to make schools, councils, charities and police work together against extremism, as they do with other risks outside the school gate.
But the document does suggest that schools should improve their ability to "identify individuals vulnerable to radicalisation". It says teachers and anyone else who could come into contact with such individuals should receive basic training in "radicalisation issues".
Jessie Seal, 16-year-old representative of the English Secondary Students' Association, was sceptical about the proposal. "I've got reservations about this," she said. "Teachers are maybe not best placed to identify who is extremist and who isn't.
"The best way to combat extremism is through RE and PSHE, and by highlighting problems of extremism to vulnerable communities."
The Home Office is providing an extra pound;12.5 million for 2008-09 to fund projects that support people or institutions thought to be at risk.
The new guidance says that the school curriculum should be used to convey a deeper understanding of faith history and culture.
"Schools can play an important role in helping young people to become more resilient to the messages of violent extremists, in tackling the sorts of grievances extremists seek to exploit, through creating an environment where all young people learn to understand others, value and appreciate diversity and develop skills to debate and analyse," it says.
But a spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers cautioned against expecting schools to do too much: "No responsible public service ignores criminal activity; you've got to report it when you find it. The issue is when you move into the area of intelligence about what goes on in the community - and you can't expect schools to take a leading role in that situation."
The Prevent Strategy can be found at: http:security.homeoffice.gov.uknews-publications.