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Teachers raise concerns over 'crass' Prevent counter-extremism training

Two-fifths of teachers report receiving an hour or less of training, as boy, 7, reported to police by school after piece of metal mistaken for bullet
A police van outside Bethnal Green Academy in East London, from where three schoolgirls absconded to Syria in February 2015 (AFP)

A majority of teachers in the UK do not feel adequately prepared to implement the Prevent Duty with many reporting receiving an hour or less of training, according to a survey carried out by the Times Education Supplement magazine.

The Prevent Duty is part of the government’s counter-extremism strategy and requires teachers to identify and report children deemed to be at risk of being “radicalised” and drawn into terrorism.

But 41 percent of 450 teachers who responded to a survey carried out by the TES said they had only been trained for an hour or less, with one respondent reporting that their sole training had been “an online read-and-click software package”.

The government’s main online Prevent training tool for teachers is an e-learning package that takes about 45 minutes to complete.

The results of the survey appear to mirror concerns reported by Middle East Eye about the quality of Prevent training which has been rolled out to more than half a million public sector workers.

Prevent courses on sale to schools deemed 'poor quality' by UK government

More than 20 commercially available courses marketed to teachers and other workers to prepare them to implement the Prevent Duty were rejected for inclusion in a Home Office catalogue because of the concerns about quality.

The quality of Prevent training was also flagged up as a cause for concern in a report on Prevent by parliament’s home affairs select committee in July.

Human rights campaign groups and international watchdogs have also raised concerns that the enforcement of the Prevent Duty in schools may infringe the rights of children and lead to unnecessary referrals because of poor training or safety-first attitude among teachers.

In a case reported on Sunday, police in Birmingham were reported to have visited the home of a seven-year-old Muslim boy after teachers mistook a piece of brass that he had taken to school for a bullet.

'The policing was heavy handed and the actions of St Edward's have left a lasting legacy on the family and have actually left a Muslim family who sent their son to a Christian school so that he could gain wider experiences, feeling isolated and detached'

Fiyaz Mughal, Tell Mama

The boy’s mother refused to allow her son, who attends St Edward’s Catholic Primary School,  to be interviewed by police and accused them of racial profiling.

Speaking to Tell Mama, an anti-Muslim hate crime monitoring organisation, the boy’s mother said: “It immediately became apparent that neither the school nor the police thought it was a real bullet, yet nobody thought to use some common sense.

“Instead it was unduly escalated and left my seven-year-old very distressed and intimidated that police officers were insisting to question him directly.”

Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Tell Mama, called on the police to apologise to the family and for the school to follow up a verbal apology to the boy's mother with a written apology.

"The policing was heavy handed and the actions of St Edward's have left a lasting legacy on the family and have actually left a Muslim family who sent their son to a Christian school so that he could gain wider experiences, feeling isolated and detached. This is precisely not how safeguarding should be enacted."

Other cases of inappropriate referrals have included the case of a four-year-old who was referred to Prevent after drawing a picture of a cucumber which nursery staff misinterpreted as a “cooker bomb”.

An image, drawn by a four-year-old, of his father cutting a cucumber. Nursery staff interpreted it as a "cooker bomb" (Open Society Justice Initiative)

Writing in a special edition of the TES published this week, teachers said they were concerned that Prevent risked alienating Muslim students and making them more vulnerable to “terrorist recruiters”.

“The training was cringeworthy and crass at best. As it went on, it became painfully obvious that the behaviour that for most young Muslims is part of dealing with their faith as they move into adulthood, was being placed under the umbrella of ‘radicalisation’,” wrote Anjum Peerbacos, an English teacher based in London.

But Shakil Ahmed, principal at Ayesha Community School in London, said that Prevent had proven effective in protecting young people from radicalisation.

“Prevent has been accused of being heavy-handed or insensitive in its approach. But in my experience, the individuals who deliver Prevent recognise the need to work with the local community to safeguard vulnerable individuals from harm,” wrote Ahmed.

Another anonymous school leader said that Prevent had also proved effective in addressing right-wing extremism.

Academics researching the impact of Prevent on schools and teachers said there was “broad support” among education professionals “for the idea that protecting young people from involvement in terrorism or violent extremism can be seen as part of schools’ wider commitment to safeguarding young people”.

But they flagged up concerns about the academic basis and predictive power of “radicalisation” models which they said amounted to a “pre-crime approach”, and reported “an array of anxieties and concerns” about Prevent in schools.

Responding to the TES about concerns over Prevent training, a Home Office spokesperson said schools were best placed to determine the nature and level of training they required to meet their Prevent responsibilities.