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Durham Law School

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Concerns about stigmatisation of Muslim students diminishes otherwise high levels of confidence in Prevent duty among school and college staff, study reveals

(3 July 2017)

Study shows teachers have some concerns about their Prevent duty

 

School and college staff in England are largely confident about implementing the Prevent duty, but some have concerns that it is increasing stigmatisation of Muslim students, according to a new study.

 

The research was carried out by a team from Durham, Coventry and Huddersfield universities.

 

Teachers’ concerns

The study found evidence that the Prevent duty, which is part of the Government’s current counter-terrorism strategy, and was introduced two years ago, may be making Muslim students feel 'singled out' and damaging their willingness to share genuine concerns about extremism.

 

A minority of education professionals argued that the duty might be counter-productive in preventing those who are vulnerable from being drawn into terrorism, owing to the perceived scrutiny of Muslim students stoking feelings of being marginalised by state and society.

 

Prevent is a legal duty that came into force in July 2015, through the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, requiring that schools and colleges play an important role in preventing students joining extremist groups and carrying out terrorist activities.

 

They are required to refer any concerns about students to a local Prevent body which then decides if further action needs to be taken.

 

British values

As part of Prevent, schools and colleges are also required to build resilience against extremism among their students by promoting ‘fundamental British values’ within their curriculum content and their operations.

 

The research reported 'discomfort' and 'uncertainty' among school and college staff about what some saw as an ill-conceived focus on 'British’ values.

 

There was concern the emphasis on the Britishness of these values can hinder the development of inclusive curriculum work promoting shared values.

 

Views from schools and colleges

The study involved in-depth interviews with 70 education professionals across 14 schools and colleges in West Yorkshire and London and eight local authority level Prevent practitioners.

 

It also included a national online survey of 225 school and college staff; and a series of feedback and discussion sessions with Muslim civil society organisations, school and college staff, educational trade unions, government departments and local authorities.

 

Support for Prevent strategy

The study reported a number of findings likely to please those who are supportive of Prevent, including:

 

  • no widespread direct resistance or opposition to the duty, with staff confidence bolstered by the feeling that it is an extension of their existing safeguarding responsibilities;
  • little evidence that education professionals perceive the duty to have led to a 'chilling effect' on free speech in schools and colleges, with substantial efforts made by staff to pre-empt negative side-effects by reinvigorating initiatives such as debating clubs and promoting Prevent-related discussion in classrooms;
  • several cases where schools and colleges are using the duty to strengthen work around racism, prejudice and inequality, often stemming from concerns around perceived far-right extremism in their area.

 

Stigmatisation

The authors of the report, however, say there remain difficult questions raised by their research, highlighting:

 

  • some concerns over the effectiveness of the duty, centred around repeated observations that genuine cases of individuals being drawn into terrorism were unlikely to be picked up;
  • one in three education staff who do not have a lead safeguarding role were unable to describe themselves as at least 'fairly confident' in carrying out the duty. There were also lower levels of confidence among younger or less experienced staff.
  • a 'strong' current of concern, that the Prevent duty is making it more difficult to foster an inclusive environment for students from different backgrounds;
  • significant concerns about the stigmatisation of Muslim students.

 

Safeguarding role

The study suggests that the widely-reported and sharp increase in referrals since the introduction of the Prevent duty is likely to be a result of both anxiety about missing a ‘genuine’ case, and an 'if in doubt speak to someone' culture.

 

Co-author Tufyal Choudhury, Assistant Professor in the Law School at Durham University, said: “The Prevent Duty has placed staff in schools and colleges in England at the front line of the UK’s counter-terrorism Prevent policy. 

 

“While the report shows that staff have engaged with and accepted the idea of Prevent as safeguarding, and many, particularly those with safeguarding responsibilities feel confident about implementing the duty, there remains widespread concern about increased stigmatisation of Muslim pupils.

 

“There is also discomfort around linking the duty to the promotion of ‘fundamental British values’ which school and college staff feel could hamper effective curriculum work around shared values.

 

“While our research has focused on the experience of staff in schools and colleges, further research is needed to understand the experience of students.”

 

The report, “What the Prevent duty means for schools and colleges in England: An analysis of educationalists’ experiences”, is published by the Centre for Peace, Trust and Social Relations at Coventry University and the Aziz Foundation.