Why I believe the prevent strategy should stay in UK schools?

 

I have to admit shouting at the TV this morning as I heard on BBC news that the NUT were making calls on the government to withdraw the prevent strategy in regard to schools and colleges. I hastily felt annoyed because I have experienced first-hand the effects that terrorism can have on a person, families and communities. So before I typed an opinionated emotive driven blog I decided to spend a few hours reading about the varying opinions relating to the prevent strategy so that I could hopefully write a more balanced blog.

 

This is a piece I wrote last year following the bombings in Paris last November:

 

It’s a Friday evening, I have finished work and I’m looking forward to sleeping in the next day. The news of the terrorist’s activities in the French Capital Paris breaks on the BBC news. I am horrified and I begin to cry .I remember how devastating the Omagh bombings in Ireland in 1998 where and I knew that the news would depict some horrifying stories over the coming days and that the lives of those people involved in those terrorist attacks would change forever.

 

I grew up in the Republic of Ireland close to the Northern Ireland border. As a young child I was slightly aware of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. I knew that my mother was afraid to go shopping in Newry as we were always stopped and questioned at the border and many times we had to run out of shopping centres during many bomb scares. I was aware that when my Dad drove his lorry into Northern Ireland he had bottles and stones thrown at his windows because he had a Republic of Ireland number plate. The daily 6.00 o clock news had many accounts of knee capping’s, bombs and shootings but it somehow felt a little far removed until when I was 12 years old, I woke one July morning to the news that my next door neighbour was missing.

 

This man took me to school in his car every day from the age of 4 until 12. His car was packed with his own children and neighbouring children every morning and some times in the winter when the car would not start we would push the car down the hill. It would start and we would all jump in happy in the knowledge that we would get to school in time to play outside.

 

36 hours later that July, I was leaving my friend’s house and crossing the road when I heard on the radio that the body of a man had be found closed to the border. He had been shot dead. At the same time, I heard screams of a mother and her seven children as the local priest told them their husband, father was dead. I will never forget the pain that was expelled through those screams. He had been shot 6 times in the head by the IRA and his body dumped in an insulting and inhuman way. He was a kind and friendly man with a gentle manner. He cared about his family, his friends and his cows.

 

A few days later the children of the community would stand together on a local football field to fill in the letters of STOP. An aerial shot was taken to show that the community was joined in solidarity during that difficult time. We were in shock, this is how we reacted. We wanted it to STOP.

 

S for STOP

T for Terrorism

O for Oppression

P for Pain

 

For years after this, the members of our community lived in fear of terrorism. Children at school were divided and split into those who supported the IRA terrorist activities and those who condemned them. Bullying, name calling, and anger was fueled by the inability of adults or teachers to address the issues or discuss the feeling of these children due to fear. The fear of intimidation or of something potentially happening to their own families. Adults remained silent or stopped talking when children entered the room but what they did not know was that the children talked and about it among themselves without a real understanding or without a safe place to discuss it.

 

I remembered one day at secondary school all the pupils were rushed out to a nearby football field as the army and guards ran in to search our lockers, bags and school. Someone had rang to say there was a bomb in the school. As children,we grew up in fear but at the time we coped as best we could.

 

As an adult 24 year later, the memories are still there but the pain has eased but I have this ingrained desire to, protect other children from acts of terrorism and violence. Earlier, at work this week we had a talk on radicalisation and how children can be groomed into acts of terroism.This talk really hit a cord with me and it something which I feel needs to be taken seriously, today more than ever.

 

From July 2015, all schools are subject to a duty under section 26 of the counter terrorism and security act 2015. This means that schools “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” .This is called the “prevent duty”. As part of that duty, staff must be able to identify children who may be vulnerable to radicalization and know a protocol to follow if and when these children are identified.

 

Advice is given to schools on how to do this which is broken into four themes:

Risk assessment

Working in partnership

Staff training

IT policies

More details on the prevent duty can be found at

 

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/439598/prevent-duty-departmental-advice-v6.pdf

 

 

So now as a teacher I have a responsibility to protect children from radicalization, extremism and indeed terrorism. This is a big responsibility which I will take seriously. Schools should provide a secure environment for its pupils. Many children in Paris will be suffering the after effects of these terrorist acts, some of them will have lost a family member, others will worry about the future, some may even be affected by PTSD.

 

Teachers in France will face a difficult task when they return to school after 3 days of mourning. We should spare a though for the people of France at this difficult time. May those who have died RIP and may those who lived through the terrorism find peace of mind eventually.As educators, we may not be able to eradicate terrorism completely but we all have a part to play, a duty to protect.

 

 

So four months later what has changed?

 

Acts of terrorism worldwide, unfortunately are becoming depressingly familiar and every time there is a terror attack, millions share their words of grieve online with the ‘pray for ……….’ tag becoming increasingly familiar.

 

According to Department For Education  “schools can build pupils’ resilience to radicalization by providing a safe environment for debating controversial issues and helping them to understand how they can influence and participate in decision-making. Schools are already expected to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils and, within this, fundamental British values.”

The Department for Education says it “makes no apology” for protecting young people from extremism.

 

Meanwhile, the NUT’s annual conference in Brighton heard warnings that the counter-radicalization policy was stopping teachers from discussing “challenging ideas” with their pupils. There were concerns that it encouraged a climate of “over-reaction” in which pupils were mistakenly reported and the police called.

According to David Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the way the policy has been implemented left teachers feeling “vulnerable” and reluctant to confront radicalization.

 

So where do I stand now?

I am with the Department for Education on this. I do believe that schools have a duty of care to for its students and that preventing terrorism is part of the duty to safe guard just as much as protecting students for pedophiles and sexual grooming is. Just as sexual offenders can get inside the mind of vulnerable children so can people who encourage terrorist beliefs and behaviours.

I believe that the prevent strategy is a step in the right direction but I do believe that teachers need enormous support in implementing it.

I agree with NUT that the Department for Education should:

  • Encourage and support members and workplace representatives to monitor how prevent is being implemented in their school/college and to take collective steps to challenge and improve policies and reporting/curriculum practices where necessary
  • Work with classroom teachers to develop resources for teachers on teaching about difficult or controversial issues and consider providing CPD on this.

I believe that CPD will improve teacher’s confidence to deal with the difficult issues raised by extremism, radicalization, suicide bombings and terrorist’s attacks. These are extremely difficult topics to deal with which will trigger tremendous emotions and reactions in the students we teach. Teachers are not trained psychologist but we deal with children every day so we get them but we also know that world events as they stand are causing young people to feel anxious about their safety and their future. As society changes, we need the support to be able to do the demanding job that faces us. Some teachers do not feel comfortable teaching PSHE, Sex Education or talking about terrorism. Why? Probably, because it doesn’t come straight out of a text book so the control of our classroom becomes less and this frightens some teachers. Difficult issue require teachers to be well read and have a  general understanding of  what is going on in the world. We need to forget that we will never truly understand why hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence but we have a duty to the best that we can to share messages of peace, understanding and compassion. One thing that is for sure is that not talking about it or not doing anything about it is not going to stop it from happening.

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Feel free to comment or email me at foodandhealthteacher@hotmail.com if you would like to discuss this blog further.

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