Author: Tom Llewellyn-Jones, Prevent Education Officer, Tower Hamlets
In June 2014 I left my job as Head of Religious Education in a secondary school and took up my post as a Prevent Education Officer. The role was new for my borough and I was excited, as well as nervous, about trying to ensure that all schools within my local authority would both understand the importance of safeguarding against radicalisation and have the confidence to successfully implement the Prevent Duty, in order to protect pupils from extremism.
The truth is that, despite officially having this role for the last three years, I have in fact been doing preventative work for much longer – as have all teachers. As a teacher, the most important thing is the safety of our students. The purpose of Prevent is the safeguarding of our children from the threat of radicalisation, and we treat it in exactly the same way as we treat other risks, such as child sexual exploitation and grooming.
Teachers are naturally concerned about unfamiliar initiatives which they might consider to be burdensome to their already busy schedules. To help overcome any such concerns, I have now been to every school within my borough and have delivered training to thousands of staff. I have also delivered lessons, assemblies and workshops to thousands of students, as well as spoken to countless parents. And, the vast majority of people I have engaged with are supportive of what we do. Research by Coventry University found that out of 70 interview respondents, just over three quarters described themselves either as ‘very confident’ or ‘fairly confident’.
“Prevent is a safeguarding issue and the majority of school staff recognise this” 1
The majority of Prevent work is not concentrated on counter-narratives, it is instead about helping our children be resilient to those who mean them harm, and knowing where they can turn should they find themselves in a dangerous situation. We aim to stop children from getting themselves into harmful situations by equipping them with critical thinking skills, and by teaching them to have a healthy scepticism of sources (think of fake news).
There is no single way to implement the Prevent Duty, it should be bespoke and mindful of a school’s local issues and challenges. True safeguarding isn’t just about helping a student in danger – it’s about helping them know how to avoid dangerous situations. The lessons I have developed will work in some schools, but not in others (even within the same borough). It’s up to the schools and the teachers to work out their needs and then implement their own strategies.
What is vital though is that teachers, parents and students should have confidence in discussing issues like extremism, and the Educate Against Hate website is a place where there is a wealth of information on these topics, as well as tried and tested resources for school leaders, teachers and parents to use as they see fit.
I encourage schools to show parents the resources that they use when discussing controversial issues. This allows them to have their input about what they would like to see taught and it also helps demystify Prevent. A comment I have heard multiple times from parents who’ve been through the schemes of work I’ve developed is ‘oh, it’s a bit like PSHE or RE.’
It is important to note that Prevent should not limit conversations on difficult issues to taking place in the classroom. In fact, effective implementation of the duty should enable discussions about these issues to flourish. By providing a safe space for students to discuss controversial issues, teachers can help them build the resilience and critical thinking skills they need to challenge extremist arguments and see them for what they are: simplistic narratives that don’t stand up to close scrutiny.
1. Busher, J., Choudhury, T., Thomas, P., & Harris, G. (2017). What the Prevent duty means for schools and colleges in England: An analysis of educationalists’ experiences. Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University.