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The Prevent Strategy: Nagging Dilemmas

18 Apr

Schools have been bombarded with advice on how to deal with preventing the growth of terrorism as part of their Safeguarding duties. This advice has come on the heels of the publication of the Prevent Strategy in 2011.  

However, the strategy has been subject to criticism from several quarters, not least from moderate Muslim leaders.

Dal Babu, chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police before his retirement in 2013, is on record as stating that many Muslims see the scheme as spying and many involved in promoting it do not understand the communities the strategy is meant to serve.  Having acknowledged that it started off as “a good idea”, Dal Babu remarked that it had become less and less trusted.

Some have criticised Prevent as being counter-productive and promoting unfair discrimination against the rank-and-file of Muslims – and others observed that there was no clear way of measuring how effective it was.

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Unpacking the dilemmas of promoting British Values

1 Jan

Are we losing our way in promoting British values?  Take two recent test cases.

I        A tale of two incidents

(a)        In early November 2016, British Gymnastics suspended Louis Smith, the UK Olympian, after he appeared in an online video in October 2016 with his friend and former gymnast, Luke Carson.  The video shows him pretending to pray to Allah while laughing.   British Gymnastics issued a statement: “Louis Smith admitted his behaviour was in breach of the Standards of Conduct.  The panel upheld the allegation and, taking into account a previous breach of the Standards of Conduct heard in June this year (where it also was made clear to Louis the consequences of any further breach), the panel determine a cumulative penalty was appropriate and order a two-month period of suspension……”

Twenty-seven-year-old Smith accepted offers to learn more about the Muslim faith after admitting he had been “ignorant to people’s religion”.

(b)        Later in November 2016, a row broke out over free speech following a government ban on 32-year-old Milo Yiannopoulos, a right-wing journalist, after an invitation extended to him by sixth former pupils at his former secondary school, i.e. Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury, Kent.  Yiannopoulos is the editor of the far-right news website, Breitbart.   The Department for Education’s Counter Extremism Unit cancelled the arrangement over safety concerns and the “threat of demonstrations at the school”.

Yiannopoulos, labelled by Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, a “notorious troll and Donald Trump supporter”, is a colourful character, to say the least, who has described feminism as a cancer, called Islam the real culprit of race culture and said women who are offended online should just “log off”.

However, the decision to cancel the journalist’s talk caused a major row over free speech.  More than 200 – 220 to be precise – sixth form students had signed up for the event – with parental permission.

Yiannopoulos wrote: “My old high school has been bullied into cancelling my talk …. by the ‘counter-extremism’ unit at the UK Department of Education.  Who even knew the DoE (sic) had a counter-extremism unit?  And that it wasn’t set up to combat terrorism but rather to punish gays with the wrong opinions.  Perhaps if I’d called the speech ‘Muslims are awesome’ they’d have left us alone. Disgusted.”

A Simon Langton student encapsulated the feelings and thoughts of many of his peers when he said, despite disagreeing with Yiannopoulos’s opinions, he felt the decision to ban his talk was “wrong”. He observed: “I feel the old adage applies: ‘I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’”

The school, which expelled Yiannopoulos when he was a student, stated that objections to his talk had come almost “entirely from people with no direct connection to Langton”.

“The staff and students of the school were overwhelmingly in favour,” said Dr Matthew Baxter, the Headteacher.  “While disappointed that both, the pastoral care and intellectual preparation we offer to our students, have been called into question, we, at Langton, remain committed to the principle of free speech and open debate, and will resist, where possible, all forms of censorship.”

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Ofsted Annual Report 2015/16

1 Jan


Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools (HMCI), published his fifth and final Ofsted annual report on the education system in England on Thursday, 1 December 2016.  He retired 30 days later.  In presenting the report, Sir Michael said “a world class education system is within our grasp – but only if serious capacity challenges are urgently addressed”.

Sir Michael stressed that a north/south ‘geographical divide’ meant the ablest pupils in the North and Midlands were less likely to reach A/A* at GCSE. He said: “Standards can only truly be considered high if they are high in every part of the country and for all pupils regardless of background or ability.”

However, his report is, in the main, positive.    The country’s schools/academies, he avers, had made progress over the last five years. Educators could be justly proud.  “Young people are getting a better deal than ever before,” he said.  School/academy leaders responded well to the changes in the system.  The decision to replace the “satisfactory” judgement with “requires improvement” led to schools/academies upping their game, making a greater effort ensuring that pupils are offered the very best possible education.     Of the former 4,800 satisfactory primary schools/academies, 79% were now good or outstanding and, of the previous satisfactory secondary ones, 56% were good or better.

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Safeguarding threatened in privatised system

1 Jan

I        Ofsted inspection focus

When Ofsted inspects a school/academy, the inspectors tend to focus on three issues – pupil progress (and achievement), the impact on children’s progress and achievement of measures taken to assist those on free school meals (FSM) with the Pupil Premium Grant (PPG) and Safeguarding. We tend to view pupil progress in narrow terms – i.e. the distance covered by youngsters in English and mathematics – instead of their overall development.  Many inspectors, sadly, do the same.

However, it is always useful for governors and school staff to draw inspectors’ attention to the ground made by shy pupils who become confident, ill-behaved children who become polite, civil and helpful to others, youngsters who constantly need help and guidance who become independent learners, self-centred young people who learn to collaborate and work co-operatively and, of course, the strides made by classes of children in all the other subjects such as science, geography, history, modern languages, design/technology, art and music, among other disciplines.

While the focus must not be constrained to any one group of pupils, the government, rightly, wants to ensure that the resources it is forking out for pupils entitled to FSMs through the PPG is used well. Inspectors expend much energy ensuring that this duty is discharged properly.

However, it is impossible for children – whatever their economic condition – to make progress if they do not feel safe and are happy.   Consequently, Safeguarding is the third issue which inspectors view under the microscope.

Where it is in peril, Local Authorities (LAs) have a responsibility for taking measures to redress the balance.   However, in an environment where LAs have lost considerable powers and resources, safeguarding Safeguarding has become increasing difficult and daunting.  The problems are being exacerbated by the “privatising” of education through an increasing number of schools (now well over 5,000) having become academies.  At least this is the view of the former Chief Inspector, Michael Tomlinson, who, until recently, was Birmingham’s Education Commissioner.

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Dilemmas in abiding by the Prevent Duty

5 Jan

One of the most challenging professions that a young person can contemplate is teaching.   Teachers are required to be all people to all people.   For instance, they often take on the role of parents, in the absence of parental love and attention.   They are required to be alert to issues of welfare which normally comes within the purview of social workers.   Where children suffer hydrocephalic seizures, are seriously diabetic, hurt and injure themselves or even suffer indigestion, they assume the role of nurses and doctors and provide the necessary medical attention.

I           Requirements placed on schools and academies

The latest duty placed on them is one of surveillance. From 1 July 2015, all schools and registered childcare providers have been subject – under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

Paragraph 16 of the Home Office guidance on the Prevent Duty – which covers schools and academies – requires them to

(i)         establish or use mechanisms for understanding the risk of radicalisation;

(ii)        ensure that staff members understand the risk and build the capabilities to deal with it;

(iii)       communicate and promote the importance of the duty; and

(iv)       ensure that staff members implement the duty effectively.

Paragraph 23 goes on to add that all specified authorities (including schools and academies) maintain appropriate records to show compliance with their responsibilities and provide reports when requested. Continue reading

Can and should schools scale back the radicalisation of youth?

13 Apr

It appears that the Prevent Strategy of the government is failing to halt a minority of young people of Muslim persuasion from joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  In 2014, The Sunday Times received an anonymous complaint that 16 schools and academies in Birmingham – two that were faith and 14 which were secular institutions – were being taken over by Islamic radicals. This came to be known as the Trojan Horse affair.

Many, including the Muslim Council, denounced the letter as a fake.  Birmingham City Council, in the name of community cohesion, did little to nothing despite having hundreds of warnings, engaging in a culture of denial and appeasement.

Michael Gove, the then Secretary of State for Education, commissioned an investigation by Peter Clarke, the former Anti-Terrorist Chief. Clarke found the allegations had substance and legs.  There was evidence that Islamist extremists – some who were governors of the schools and academies – had infiltrated a number of Birmingham schools. The governors had appointed “sympathetic” headteachers, senior staff members and “like-minded” people to key positions, removing headteachers who were not “compliant” with their particular agenda.

Almost at the same time, Birmingham City Council also commissioned Ian Kershaw, a former headteacher, to investigate and write a report on the subject.

The reports of both, Clarke and Kershaw, were explosive. While neither found evidence of “direct radicalisation” both described bullying and intimidation, nepotism, bans on music, sex and citizenship education, extremist speakers given platforms at the institutions and the segregation of girls and boys.  These schools and academies had adopted the views held by Islamic terrorists of the persuasion of Jihadi John, i.e. Mohammed Emwazi, a British citizen, who beheaded a number of captives in the Islamic State – displaying videos of his acts of horror on the internet.  This is extremely worrying because the messages injected into pupils and students are seductive and flying in the face of the government’s Prevent Strategy.   Continue reading