In my own personal experience, and in the experiences of colleagues I’ve spoken to, training relating to the Prevent Strategy has been generally crude and often involves lazy stereotypes. I’m sure I’m not the only person in the Conference hall today who was given an A3 sheet with a line that showed ISIS at one end and the EDL at other, as if the modern world of extremist political beliefs can be explained away in such unexacting terms.
What the Prevent Strategy has achieved so far has been suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom. David Anderson QC (the Government’s independent advisor on terror legislation) recently told a Parliamentary committee that there is ‘An acute crisis of confidence amongst some teachers about the way they’re expected to deal with Prevent’.
Indeed, this confusion is evident in the story, reported recently on BBC Radio 5's 5 Live Investigates, of a 4 year old primary school pupil who drew and labelled a cucumber. As many primary school colleagues present today will testify, they often have to take the squint eyed approach to looking at letter formation at such a tender age and this particular child’s teacher read cucumber as ‘cooker bomb’ and reported the incident under the Prevent Strategy.
Just take a moment to let that sink in. 4 years old, cucumber, Prevent (and by definition a concern of extremism). Although no further action was taken in this case the family were obviously distressed by the referral.
Then we have the story of 10 year old Raheem, a story that made national newspapers when, after being asked to write a piece of fiction about a believable character, Raheem created Cheeky Charlie. Cheeky Charlie lived in a terrorist house with his uncle. Cheeky Charlie didn’t like his uncle much because his uncle hit him. I’m sure that most of us, under our right and proper duty of safeguarding might have just had our radar tweaked by the reference to the hitting uncle. Indeed, this was the concern of Raheem’s teacher, after clearing up that reference to the terrorist house was a clear spelling mistake and indeed Raheem had meant to write terraced house.
The following day Raheem’s family were visited by a social worker and police officers. Whilst the social worker quickly established that the Cheeky Charlie story was based on a film Raheem had seen the police officers questioned Raheem and his 15 year old brother asking them how they found out about terrorists and whether their Mosque was connected to terrorism or not.
The worrying thing about this case is that the teacher had referred it forward as a simple safeguarding issue and had not even mentioned the Prevent Strategy in their concerns.
Between July and December 2015 the DfE’s Counter Extremism Hotline received 150 calls and emails reporting potential extremism. That equates to about 2 calls a day. These are just the figures reported to that hotline and there remains some confusion around just how many referrals are being made within schools under the Prevent Strategy.
At best we are aware that around 80% of referrals lead to no further action but I’m sure that you, like me colleagues, are not wholly confident with the lack of transparency surrounding what happens with the names and information once they are logged.
When terrorist atrocities occur, such as those in recent weeks in Afgahnistan, Yemen, Turkey and Belgium, children naturally want to sate their understanding of the world we live in. Are we teachers going to be the gatekeepers who deny access and discussion or are we going to continue to be the safe conduits to expanding our children’s knowledge of an increasingly complex and dangerous world?
We in the NUT demand that the Government withdraw the duty to carry out the Prevent Strategy in schools and colleges and stop education professionals being the secret service of the public sector.