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12 January, 2016

The Government won't tackle extremism by scaring teachers into shutting down debate, say school leaders

Teachers are avoiding the issue of extremism for fear of the government's Prevent Duty, but opening up the debate is more likely to be successful than shutting it down, reports Angela Neustatter in today's Guardian.

A group of young people.
'It’s essential schools counter the negative implications of Prevent. But the actions currently expected of school staff risk alienating Muslim children unless they are balanced by a broader vision.'

Although the Department for Education insists that 'good schools provide a safe space for pupils to develop the knowledge and awareness to challenge radical beliefs', the article suggests that the Government must do more to help teachers avoid alienating pupils. 

In her article for the Guardian, journalist Angela Neustatter cites the cases of an Islington pupil who was questioned about terrorism links when he mentioned eco-terrorism after a class discussion on the environment, and the family questioned by officials after their eight-year-old son was too afraid to tell his class what religion he was. 

Instead of shutting down debate like this, the experts argue, schools are better to take the citizenship education approach: that of helping students make their own, informed, decisions and take responsibility for their own lives and communities.

'Enabling a dialogue around terrorist behaviour,' as she does in her citizenship classes and in the school as a whole, 'must be part of a preventative strategy,' says Jenny Smith, headteacher of Frederick Bremer School (and star of Channel 4's 'Educating the East End').
 
Kamal Hanif, headteacher at Waverley school in Birmingham, which has a majority of Muslim pupils, says teachers should plan lessons to debate events in the news. 'And at the heart of everything,' hes says, 'there should be respect, not hostility, for Muslim young people, who have pride in their faith'.

But more teachers need to feel confident to take such an approach.

Ms Newstatter reports that Tom Sherrington, head at Highbury Grove school in London, says 'it’s essential schools counter the negative implications of Prevent. But the actions currently expected of school staff risk alienating Muslim children unless they are balanced by a broader vision,' she writes. 'He wants to see children encouraged to discuss religious radicalisation and to “promote global citizenship explicitly”'.

 

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