Teachers have voted overwhelmingly to reject the government’s Prevent strategy, designed to tackle extremism, over concerns that it causes “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom”.
At the National Union of Teachers annual conference in Brighton, a motion was backed calling for Prevent to be scrapped, after a succession of speakers ridiculed its effectiveness and attacked the poor support offered to schools to implement it.
Since last summer, Prevent has obliged teachers to refer to police pupils they suspect of engaging in some sort of terrorist activity or radical behaviour. The duty has been largely considered a failure by teaching leaders, partly because about 90% of referrals end without action being taken.
Speakers at the conference said that while schools and teachers did have a role in safeguarding and protecting pupils from exposure to extremism, in practice Prevent was ineffective and even counter-productive.
Gary Kaye, a delegate from North Yorkshire, said the Prevent training given to many teachers was “crude and often involves loads of stereotypes”.
“I’m sure I’m not the only person in this conference hall today who has been given a sheet of A3 paper with a line that shows Isis on one side and the EDL on the other, as if the modern world of extremist political belief could be explained in such exact terms,” he said.
Kaye called for the government to withdraw the Prevent duty from schools and colleges “and stop education professionals being the secret service of the public sector”, to loud applause.
Lisa Tunnell, a teacher from Chesterfield, described one young Muslim student’s experience under Prevent. She said: “He talked about a French teacher who threatened to call the police because he used the word terrorism when being asked to explain an airport security sign.”
Tunnell said that the Prevent programme disproportionately targeted Muslim students and so damaged relationships with local school communities.
Alex Kenny, an NUT executive member who moved the motion, said teachers were receiving Prevent training “of very varied content, provided by a multiplicity of organisations, without accreditation or regulation”.
“It’s leading to a situation where teachers are finding it more difficult to seize opportunities to discuss important issues,” Kenny said.
“When that happens, we are in danger of abandoning young people to the dark places they can find elsewhere, on the internet and elsewhere, without any hope of any mediation by us.”
“Schools’ best contribution to countering any behaviour that could be a problem is by encouraging discussion. Some aspects of Prevent inhibit this and it is for this reason that we need a review of the strategy to find the right, and best way to protect children and young people.
“The NUT is calling on the government to involve the profession in developing alternative strategies to safeguard children and identify risks posed to young people.”
This article was written by Richard Adams in Brighton, for theguardian.com on Monday 28th March 2016 13.08 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010