Q. How is extremism being defined?
A: The government definition of extremism is:
“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces”
For more practical reasons, extremism should be viewed as the promotion of hatred or violence as a means to achieve an ideological goal. Typically, the ideology in question would be one that is hostile to the core values that we as a country seek to uphold, values such as free speech, individual liberty, equality, human rights and democracy.
Extremist ideologies, whether far-right, far-left or jihadist, tend to offer a binary and simplistic framework through which all reality is construed. As such, they constrict intellectual curiosity and encourage a rigid and dogmatic approach to life that often leads to tension, hatred and even violence.
Prevent does not seek to police political views or religious expression, nor does it seek to impose one particular political perspective. However, it does seek to discourage the adoption of ideologies that breed hatred and violence. As such, Prevent seeks to target and discredit all forms of extremism whilst encouraging critical thinking and consumption skills in young people.
Q. Why is Prevent relevant for schools?
A: Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a duty on schools, as well as other specified authorities, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” in the exercise of their functions. In other words, schools need to remain cognisant of the fact that young people in their care could be targeted by extremist recruiters or be exposed to extremist propaganda materials. As such, they have a statutory duty to take appropriate action if they have reason to believe this is taking place.
With Prevent now being a statutory safeguarding duty for schools, Ofsted will seek to monitor and assess the extent to which schools comply with this duty during inspections. Schools can assess the extent to which they are complying with Ofsted requirements by asking themselves the question contained in the framework below:
Policy – Have you completed a risk assessment that covers policies around things such as due diligence on external speakers, IT usage, incident management, staff awareness etc.?
Practice – Can you demonstrate through examples that the stated policies are put in practice?
Protocol – Are staff aware of the policies and do they know what to do should an incident occur?
Partnership – Is the school in touch with a wider range of partners locally to whom they can make referrals to or discuss incidents with? These partners would typically include the local Prevent team, the Police Prevent team and Children’s Services.
As well as managing incidents and making referrals when necessary, schools are also expected to create opportunities for young people to discuss topical social and political issues as well as promote British values. The Prevent team has developed a series of lesson plans and resources that can be used by schools to explore themes related to extremism, ideally these lessons should be incorporated into PSHE.
Q. What about Primary schools?
A: Children of a primary school age may not be mature enough to develop strong political or religious convictions; however, they can be exposed to inappropriate materials and conversations that encourage extremist ideas. They may also be negatively influenced by older siblings, relatives or family friends. There is strong evidence to suggest that this is already happening across the country and a number of Prevent-related interventions with young people have taken place.
Furthermore, our minds are shaped by what we see and hear in our childhood, so it is important that we educate pupils about the dangers of extremism from an early age. Thus, as well as dealing with concerns the Primary sector should be opening up discussions that allow young people to explore a range of perspectives on topical and pressing issues. As such, Primary schools also have an important role to play and the Prevent duty applies to them just as much as it applies to Secondary schools.
Q. Who does Prevent target?
A: Prevent is designed to target all forms of extremism as opposed to singling out one particular manifestation of extremism. This means the training we offer and the resources we develop for schools focus on extremism as a phenomenon rather than one particular strand of extremism. As such, the target audience for Prevent awareness activities in schools is all pupils regardless of their ethnic or religious background.
Q. Does Prevent hinder free-speech and expression?
A: A key Ofsted requirement, and a central message we promote to schools, is that they should create safe spaces within classrooms in which controversial political/social/cultural/religious issues can be discussed and debated. These discussions should, ideally, be led by teachers whom pupils have an existing relationship with and expose pupils to a wide range of perspectives.
The training and awareness we offer teachers seeks to develop their understanding of extremism so that they are confident and knowledgeable enough to manage these discussions. Early indications are that such an approach works and pupils enjoy presenting their views on recent issues that are in the media. Prevent seeks to do the opposite of shutting down debate; it seeks to open a debate that has, thus far, been repressed by political correctness and fear.
Q. What is Channel?
A: Channel is a multi-agency panel that seeks to identify care pathways for vulnerable people that have been referred for extremism related concerns. Channel uses existing local services and well as ideological mentors in order to offer support in the pre-criminal space. Being referred to Channel does not show up on future DBS checks nor does it lead to a criminal record. The process is entirely voluntary and cannot be forced on anyone who does not want to engage.
Channel is chaired and overseen by the local authority but led by the police. This means the police, working alongside the local authority, perform necessary background checks and approach individuals of concern. However, key decisions around entry into and exit from Channel are made by the local authority Channel chair.
Q. What Does Radicalisation Process look like?
A: The term ‘radicalisation’ refers to the process individuals who embrace extremist ideology undergo. It is a transformative process in which ones worldview, and relationships with those around them, changes in a direction that is negative and harmful. Behavioural indicators may not always be obvious since people respond to change in different ways and can embrace extremism both actively and passively.
However, ones relationship with peers, family and society in general is transformed and the extremist narrative defines all future interaction. Radicalised individuals are often keen to preach their narrative and seek new converts, whilst distancing themselves from people who may undermine their worldview. They are incredibly passionate about a narrow range of issues and not open to alternative perspectives. They also adopt a conspiratorial approach, since conspiracy theory is often used to bridge the gap between reality and their worldview.
Radicalisation often takes place through a combination of the online and offline interaction. The initial spark for the process is often offline as people interact with peers or family members that introduce them to extremist narratives. Subsequently, the online sphere is used for deeper indoctrination and interaction with extremist propagandists and fellow recruits. Typically, social media platforms and messaging sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Whatsapp are frequented by extremist groups who use them to disseminate their propaganda. Thus, individuals can easily create their own online echo-chamber in which all the people they interact with share and reinforce the extremist narrative.
Q. Why are some young people vulnerable?
A: Typically, people who are recruited to extremist organisations do not have a clear profile, nor do they follow a linear trajectory. Extremists have been successful in recruiting people from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicities and genders. However, extremist rhetoric and activism does appeal to certain individuals who lack internal resilience and whose life experience affirms the extremist narrative.
Humans have basic social needs; we all feel the need to belong to a community, to have a supportive social network around us and to feel valued and appreciated. Individuals who struggle to have these needs met will often seek out alternative means to meet these needs. Extremist groups offer a strong sense of identity that helps recruits feel they are part of a bigger whole. A strong identity, which is increasingly important to many people in a globalised and often disorientating world, allows people them to define who they are and who their people are. This self-identification is often in contrast to mainstream society who they feel let down by.
Along with identity comes a supportive social structure that allows individuals to meet like-minded people and feel a sense of belonging to a community that seems to care about their well-being. This is especially empowering and rewarding to individuals who feel alienated from their immediate social environment either through negative experiences or just not fitting in and being accepted. It helps raise self-esteem and reduces feelings of worthlessness and failure.
Binding this social structure and sense of identity together is a core narrative that is binary, divisive and comprehensive in that it can be used to interpret anything and everything. Personal, local and international grievances are often weaved into a singular narrative that seeks to attribute blame and offer an emancipatory solution. Often certain groups in society are blamed for all the world’s ills and a utopian vision of society if offered as the solution. Thus, embracing the narrative involves directing hatred towards the out-group and showing unwavering loyalty to the in-group.
In order to alleviate the vulnerabilities of individuals protective factors can be put in place. These could include; offering a strong sense of identity and belonging, positive role models, encouraging critical thinking and acceptance of diversity. Meeting the social needs for isolated individuals can also make them less vulnerable to the manipulation of extremist groups.