All schools are required to safeguard the best interests of their pupils, promoting their welfare and safety.

Schools have long known that safeguarding extends beyond child protection, although the duty to protect children from harm and neglect is central.

Safeguarding also requires schools to consider their pupils’ physical and mental health and emotional well-being, their opportunities for education, training and recreation, the contribution made by them to society and their social and economic well-being.

And, from 1 July 2015, safeguarding has acquired a new face – and with it a new lexicon – in the shape of the Prevent duty.

What is the Prevent duty?

As a result of Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, from 1 July schools have had a statutory duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This is referred to as the ‘Prevent duty’.

Schools also have a legal duty to support ‘Channel’, a programme which focuses on providing support at an early stage to people who are identified as being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. And in discharging these duties, schools must have regard to relevant statutory guidance, including the flagship statutory guidance on safeguarding for schools, Keeping Children Safe in Education.

What does the Prevent duty mean for schools?

Matthew Burgess
Matthew Burgess

Getting to grips with terminology is the starting point.

The DfE advice explains that ‘radicalisation’ is the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism. It is seen as the stage during which it is possible to intervene to prevent vulnerable people being drawn into terrorist-related activity. And the statutory guidance explains the linkage between terrorism, extremism and radicalisation in the following terms:

“Terrorist groups often draw on extremist ideology, developed by extremist organisations. Some people who join terrorist groups have previously been members of extremist organisations and have been radicalised by them. The Government has defined extremism in the Prevent strategy as: ‘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’.”

Moving beyond understanding the terminology, the next stage of a school’s approach to implementing the Prevent duty will require it to take action across all the following areas:

  • Establish an understanding of the risk profile of radicalisation among the school’s pupils and staff
  • Ensure staff understand the risk and build the capabilities to deal with it
  • Communicate and promote the importance of the Prevent duty, providing appropriate training for staff involved in the implementation of the Prevent duty to ensure effective implementation
  • Work in partnership and co-operation with local Prevent co-ordinators, the police and local authorities and through existing multi-agency forums
  • Share information to ensure that a person at risk of radicalisation is given appropriate support whilst taking into account factors such as necessity and proportionality, consent, the power to share and relevant legislation
  • Ensure that those within the school community suspected or identified as already engaged in illegal terrorist-related activity are referred to the police, and
  • Maintain appropriate records to show compliance with the school’s responsibilities and provide reports when requested

All change – or business as usual?

Government communications have been keen to stress that the new legal duty on schools shouldn’t either add, or detract, a great deal from what good schools are already doing. So the DfE advice stresses that the Prevent duty “is entirely consistent with schools’ existing responsibilities”, “should not be burdensome” and “is not intended to stop pupils debating controversial issues”.

A dedicated telephone helpline and email address is given to enable staff and governors to raise concerns relating to extremism directly with the DfE.

Despite all these reassurances, school leaders have been quick to point out inherent tensions: staff afraid of allowing pupils to talk about controversial subjects, undermining free speech rather than defending it; schools increasingly expected to police the borders, monitor the internet at large and carry out surveillance on pupils at risk. It’s to be hoped that the new mantra – “intolerant of intolerance” – doesn’t simply contract into intolerance.

Matthew Burgess is a partner at Veale Wasbrough Vizards

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