The implementation of Prevent has left some schools feeling ill equipped and in some cases close to boiling point, with the NUT recently calling for it to be scrapped.
Very little guidance accompanied the launch of the Prevent Duty and as time marches on the, full challenges of the Prevent legislation are coming to light. It seems increasingly apparent that what is required is a fundamental shift in approach across the board. The backdrop to all of this could fuel the paranoia of almost anyone – getting to grips with how to accurately teach ‘British values’; murmurs that the Prevent strategy is effectively spying on children and ever-present sensitivities around racism.
What follows are some general thoughts, guidance and practical suggestions on how this hot topic can be tackled from an e-safety perspective. Equally important are the soft skills that wrap around this to really make a difference.
Open to Interpretation
Bearing in mind the Prevent strategy is in place to tackle all forms of radicalisation; from far right to far left and anything in-between deemed radical then using insulting or derogatory names or labels for another group should of course put up a red flag. But at what stage does it warrant a real concern?
This brings us to the use of the term ‘British values’ which you could argue could otherwise be described as 'decent values'. It is a really sound step to ensure that all school staff are completely ‘on the same page’ with their understanding. Seemingly a basic task but it can be a can of worms to agree exactly what ‘British values’ are. If schools limit guidance to the descriptive list issued by the government, they are lacking a richer tapestry of how that translates on the ground and online in practical terms. Coming to a determination needs to involve all staff, be communicated effectively and reviewed regularly.
It is against the law to ask somebody to commit an act of terrorism, or incite somebody to commit a hate crime, or to demonstrate racism. This principal extends, of course, to the online environment.
Instead of the buck stopping with Internet service providers, Nicky Morgan announced new measures at the end of last year to make the censoring of Internet content in schools compulsory. School responsibility extends to protecting minors from pornography, cyberbullying and radicalisation. The robustness of filtering systems on school computers is now under scrutiny and Internet use is to be monitored.
Where there is a will there is a way so it is probably overly optimistic to rule out the radicals eventually finding a way around Ms. Morgan’s directive. This magnifies the need to focus on the general online savviness of students, beyond just the actual messages they are exposed to.
To achieve this, children have to be empowered to make sensible and objective decisions. They need to be able to do lots of things that many adults would not have a clue about. Illustrative examples include being able to use the Whois look up for domain registration, determine when and where a site was published and who is likely to be responsible for the content on the site. Then they need to be able to filter all of this and make a decision regarding whether the site is reliable, genuine or controversial.
With the huge range of mobile phones apps, our youngsters can have a private conversation with anybody virtually anywhere on the planet. When the child is no longer under the protection of the school filtering and monitoring systems, they are left vulnerable and this is where effective education takes over.
Across The Curriculum
As well as taking in knowledge, pupils must learn to challenge what is put before them; especially to critically evaluate the vast array of different media channels they are exposed to. A young person's education does not stop at the school gate, and they may well be able to access entirely uncensored web content elsewhere. By encouraging general awareness and wellbeing they will be better equipped to make objective decisions no matter where they are.
There is a balance to be aimed for, we need to get the point across but not scare children. Because we still value freedom of speech, we need to ensure children are challenging whether everything they read, view and see is true. This is a good topic for an assembly or classroom debate
Tolerance, respect and friendship need to be constant themes in PHSE. It is easy to make the media the scapegoat when something happens online. In reality, this boils down to inappropriate behaviour played out online. Therefore citizenship and PSHE lessons should build the foundations for good citizenship, with the hope pupils will take that skill online.
Since the Internet is such a powerful tool being exploited by radical groups, all of the above helps equip children for when they are online. Even if schools have strict censorship, good citizenship extends outside of the classroom and will help keep youngsters safer on the Internet when they may not be so closely supervised.
Focusing on prevention above cure, staff now need to consider pupils in light of their vulnerability to radicalisation with the same seriousness as exposure to drugs and alcohol.
Tackling any of this is not without its challenges. Teachers need to also be equipped in the skills required to engage effectively on highly sensitive topics. Specific training on anti-radicalisation alongside safeguarding for trainee teachers is inevitable.
Now could be a good time to evolve the value statements for your school, more closely reflecting the new duties and ‘British values’. Perhaps even look at including online behaviour and expectations in a new generation of policy documents. If the teachers in your school feel involved, they will feel a sense of ownership over implementing Prevent, making it easier for them to pass it on to those in their charge.
At E-safety Support we are delighted to have a suite of anti-radicalisation and Prevent training and resources. The resources have been developed with the help of e-safety consultant, Tim Pinto and are designed to help all members of the school community (pupils, parents and staff) understand more about the issue of radicalisation and in particular the part the Internet plays in encouraging people to consider extremist views.