A school’s safeguarding responsibilities include the duty to protect children from radicalisation and extremism. This is enshrined in the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and is commonly known as the Prevent Duty.
It may not be appropriate to teach directly about radicalisation to primary school children but it will be important to focus on universal social and emotional programmes that promote qualities such as empathy, and PSHE modules that focus on tolerance, kindness, relationships, diversity and respect.
What is radicalisation and extremism?
Radicalisation refers to the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and extremist ideologies associated with terrorist groups.
An important starting point is for school staff to understand what these concepts mean, what makes children vulnerable to extremism and how schools might prevent these risks affecting children. Staff also need to know how to obtain support for children at risk.
Spotting the signs
A complex pattern of circumstances can lead children and young people to become radicalised and we are at an early stage of understanding any connection between radicalisation and mental health and wellbeing.
These are some of the things that schools may notice in a child who is vulnerable. They may be:
- constantly searching for answers to questions about belonging, identify or faith
- increasingly secretive
- experiencing increasing levels of anger
- have a sense of grievance and injustice.
External factors might also have an impact – such as community tensions, racism, events affecting their country of origin or having friends or family involved in extremism.
Protective factors: what schools can do
Radicalisation is usually a gradual process and it may be possible to take steps to steer children away from extremist influences.
Schools can develop a safe learning environment where pupils can talk openly about controversial issues; where they are encouraged to express their ideas and thoughts; and where you can support them and help minimise the risks of them becoming radicalised.
Schools can help minimise the risk of children becoming drawn into radicalisation by:
- Adopting a whole-school approach to promoting emotional health and wellbeing; providing early intervention through PSHE and cross-curricular activities to help all pupils celebrate and value differences; support inclusion, and help children develop the critical skills they need to assess and judge information.
- Having a strong school ethos based on a commitment to mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths, beliefs or customs.
- Developing positive relationships in the classroom/school built on kindness, trust, safety and security promoting pupil wellbeing, school belonging and providing the protective benefit of a strong, healthy relationship with an adult – making it easier for children to confide when they have worries.
- Developing children’s social and emotional skills through the use of whole-school preventative programmes and targeted, small group work. These programmes help children develop protective coping skills (such as resilience, confidence, empathy and respect) early, reducing the risk of extremist influences and pressure and encouraging them to ask for help when they need it.
- Establishing common ground rules about how children should behave towards classmates and others – especially when talking about difficult topics. Note that children at risk of radicalisation may seek to hide their real views.
- Being alert to changes in children’s behaviour which might indicate that they may need help or protection, and taking appropriate and proportionate action, working in partnership with families.
Schools should also have clear procedures for reporting concerns and to ensure local multi-agency action to support children who they suspect have become radicalised. Such a concern should be treated as a safeguarding issue and should be discussed with the designated safeguarding lead (DSL).