CONCERNS about the counter-productive stigmatisation of Muslim school pupils and students from the anti-terrorism ‘Prevent’ agenda have been highlighted in a study by three universities including Coventry.
The study calls for an urgent review of the wider impact of the government’s two-year-old Prevent agenda – which places a duty on all institutions to prevent people becoming radicalised towards terrorism.
Young people are reported to a local Prevent body based on tip-offs and reported concerns that a student might be showing signs of becoming radicalised.
The research concludes there is widespread confidence among school and college staff that the Prevent strategy can be successfully implemented.
But there are concerns among other teachers and education professionals that it could have the unintended effect of encouraging young people to be radicalised, due to feelings of injustice.
The study found evidence that the Prevent duty is making some Muslim students feel ‘singled out’.
The result is that they have in some cases become less willing to share genuine concerns about extremism, which might be difficult to detect.
Lead investigator Dr Joel Busher, from Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, said: “Approaching Prevent as part of safeguarding appears largely to have been accepted by schools and colleges and has helped to foster fairly widespread confidence about the duty.
“However, linking the duty to the promotion of ‘fundamental British values’ – and in particular the pressure on schools and colleges to emphasise the ‘Britishness’ of these values – is often seen as more problematic.
“We heard about fears that this element is both hampering effective curriculum work around shared values and democratic citizenship, and creating uncertainty about the focus of the Prevent duty.”
He added: “Widespread and sometimes acute concerns about possible feelings of stigmatisation among Muslim students highlight an urgent need for systematic evaluation of how, if at all, the Prevent duty has impacted on student experiences.
“It is likely to be some years before we are able to truly assess the impact of the Prevent duty and further research is needed.
“In the meantime, we hope that this research can serve as a stimulus for constructive yet critical discussion about what the Prevent duty means for schools and colleges.”
The study, by Coventry, Durham and Huddersfield universities, 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.
The study reported a number of findings likely to please those who are supportive of Prevent, including:
* 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.