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Spotting the Signs of Radicalisation: A Guide for Educators

Extremist groups are increasingly using the internet to reach and groom young people in Britain. Studies suggest that half of the UK’s young people who succumb to radicalisation are brainwashed by extremist material on the internet and that the number of people radicalised online in Britain has doubled in the last five years.

Therefore, it is vital that as teachers, we learn how to spot the signs of radicalisation to prevent our pupils being led down a path which could result in them harming themselves or others.

Every school has certain obligations under the Prevent duty, the government’s anti-terrorism strategy that looks to safeguard communities and people from the threat of radicalisation. It’s, therefore, essential that staff are able to identify children who may be vulnerable to radicalisation and know what to do when they are identified.

There is no single pathway to radicalisation: it is almost always a combination of behaviours and can be different for each person, according to their personal vulnerabilities. It is also important to recognise that some of the behaviours that could be considered signs of radicalisation are also common teenage traits.

To help clarify, Educate Against Hate has compiled a list of signs that might indicate a pupil is being radicalised, drawing on research from the Centre for the Prevention of Radicalisation Leading to Violence in Canada. This research distinguishes between ‘insignificant’, ‘troublesome’, ‘worrisome’ and ‘alarming’ behaviours – but it is important not to think of vulnerabilities in terms of a tick-box approach, with a defined threshold at which point individuals are radicalised. We have tailored this guidance as specifically as possible to the opportunities and limitations of the classroom context. ‘Worrisome’ signs are more likely to be discernible in the classroom and, since these signs often form the pretext to radicalisation, it is at this stage that teachers can most usefully intervene or provide insight.

If a pupil begins to display a combination of the following ‘worrisome’ behaviours, there may be cause for concern:

  • Becoming more angry, argumentative and domineering
  • Quick to condemn those who don’t agree, and ignore or demonise viewpoints which contradict their own
  • Beginning to express themselves in a divisive ‘them and us’ manner about others who have alternative beliefs
  • Increasingly secretive or suddenly unwilling to discuss their views
  • Using derogative terms, ask inappropriate questions, or express themselves in a way that sounds scripted
  • Changed their circle of friends and distancing themselves from friends they were previously close to
  • Lost interest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Become socially withdrawn and spending increasing amounts of time online
  • Expressing hostile and/or conspiratorial ideas about the government and foreign policy
  • Justifying the use of violence and criminality or expressing a desire for “revenge” and “absolute truth”

Whilst we hope this list can provide a useful framework for understanding the symptoms radicalisation, it is by no means exhaustive.

As a teacher, you are well placed to recognise when a student is acting out of character: have confidence in your professional judgment and seek advice from your designated Prevent or safeguarding lead if something feels wrong.

Further guidance on approaching and reporting concerns is available here.

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