Radicalisation and extremism: Prevent self-assessment tool

Written by: Elizabeth Rose | Published:
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As the government launches a Prevent self-assessment tool and new guidance on responding to extremism, safeguarding expert Elizabeth Rose offers schools a refresher and some pointers to ensure your safeguarding practice in this area is effective

In October, the Department for Education published a new Prevent self-assessment tool (DfE, 2022), along with a range of guidance documents to support schools in safeguarding children vulnerable to radicalisation.

Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a duty on certain bodies, including schools, in the exercise of their functions, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

This is a long-standing requirement and schools should be training staff at least annually to equip them with the skills to prevent children being drawn into terrorism and spot signs that may indicate that they are being or have been radicalised.

However, the picture of risk is constantly changing, and schools need to keep up-to-speed with the latest learning, intelligence and information to be able to spot things of concern.

The latest statistics (Home Office, 2021) show that in the year ending March 2021, there were 4,915 referrals to Prevent. This is a decrease of 22% compared to the previous year (6,287) and the lowest number of referrals received since comparable data are available (year ending March 2016). These figures are due to be updated later this term.

The police made the highest number of referrals (1,770; 36%), followed by the education sector (1,221; 25%). This period saw the lowest proportion of referrals received from the education sector since comparable data are available.

There was a noticeable reduction in the number of referrals made by schools during lockdown’s partial closures and this really highlights the crucial role that schools play in noticing the signs of radicalisation and intervening at the earliest possible opportunity.

In this article, I discuss the latest information schools can access to support them in safeguarding children in relation to this issue, alongside ideas for best practice.

Current risks

The current terror threat level is “substantial”, which is determined by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre through considering available intelligence, terrorist capability, terrorist intentions, and timescales (if an attack is likely in the near future).

Threats to the UK come from both international terrorism, right wing terrorism and left wing, anarchist and single issue terrorism. It is also important to be aware of “mixed, clear or unstable cases”, where a person may show an interest in several ideologies, changes ideologies over time, may be obsessed with violence without targeting a particular group or may target a “perceived other” but does not otherwise identify with a particular group or ideology.

However, it is important to note that 19 out of the 20 children who were arrested in the 12 months prior to March 2022 for terrorism offences were linked to an extreme right-wing ideology (Dodd, 2022).

How does radicalisation happen?

Radicalisation can happen in person, online or through a combination of both. A person may be radicalised by others – community leaders, friends or family members, or strangers that they meet online for example – or may “self-radicalise” by watching extreme videos or reading books or sites that encourage extremist thought.

Some children may be more vulnerable to radicalisation than others and vulnerabilities tend to be similar to other safeguarding issues. For example, if a child has had adverse childhood experiences, been the victim of abuse, bullying or crime or have family members or peers that are involved they may be more vulnerable.

We also know that children may be vulnerable if they have access to extreme materials or discussions, either online, through printed materials, stickering, marches or if they have been exposed to violence and/or extremism abroad.

In education, we have a responsibility to know children well, put support in place for them if they have experienced abuse, bullying or crime, and ensure that their learning environment is safe – including anything that we ask them to do online.

The new guidance

The new guidance from the DfE (2022) comprises:

  • The Prevent Duty: An introduction to those with safeguarding responsibilities
  • Understanding and identifying radicalisation risk in your education setting
  • Managing risk of radicalisation in your education setting
  • Case studies
  • A self-assessment tool

It is a matter of personal choice as to whether you should complete the self-assessment first or read the guidance. However, the new guidance gives clear information about risks, vulnerabilities, what to look out for, and what to do about concerns, so it is likely to be helpful for all schools. It will also help in developing training for staff to refresh their knowledge and understanding.

What to do: Essentials and best practice

  • As part of the Prevent Duty, all schools, as specified authorities, “are expected to assess the risk of children being drawn into terrorism, including support for extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology. This should be based on an understanding, shared with partners, of the potential risk in the local area”. It is advisable to contact your local authority for advice and information pertinent to your local area. Some local authorities may have a risk assessment template for use by schools.
  • Consider if your safeguarding policy has sufficient information about this issue, your local context, and the roles and responsibilities of the school under relevant legislation.
  • Ensure that all staff have had sufficient training to notice signs and symptoms of radicalisation, including key terms and words of concern. This includes training governors on their responsibilities.
  • Make sure that school IT filtering and monitoring systems are robust, and all flags of concern are acted on and recorded on children’s files.
  • Consider how your curriculum promotes tolerance, discussion, and respect for others. This should extend into your teaching of online safety.
  • Think about how you hear and respond to pupil voice. Pupil voice is not only pupil panels or the pupil council, but also the concerns children raise, what they say about worries or concerns, and how they speak to one another. Listen and notice any patterns or areas of concern that are emerging.
  • Complete the DfE self-assessment to review your safeguarding procedures in relation to radicalisation.

Final thoughts

It is important to consider radicalisation and extremism – as well as the Prevent Duty – as being part of safeguarding, not as a separate issue. It should be part of your safeguarding training and policy – and tolerance, respect for cultures, backgrounds and faiths should be built in across all areas of school life.

Working closely with your communities – parents, police, the local authority, and local groups – will help to foster positive relationships and model this to children, as well as allowing for greater opportunity to understand risks and identify issues of concern.

The new documents from the DfE provide a useful set of tools to support in developing, extending, or affirming your approach to this issue, along with your local sources of support.

Further information & resources

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