Teachers to call for ‘safe space’ for children to discuss Islam

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From The Telegraph

Teachers are to debate whether to launch a campaign so that schools and colleges “ensure a safe space” for pupils to discuss radical ideas without the fear of being branded extremists or risking being reported to the police.

The motion will also include a discussion on whether to call on the Government to withdraw the Prevent strategy which imposes a duty to spot signs of students being radicalised.

This follows concerns among teachers that a statutory duty upon teachers to prevent students from being drawn into terrorism is actually closing space for debate and leading to radicalisation.

Teachers argue that there are already “long established and robust” safeguarding mechanisms in schools to spot potential radicalisation among pupils.

However, the Counter Terrorism and Security Act places a statutory duty on teachers to prevent young people from being “drawn into terrorism”.

Already, there have been cases where pupils have been wrongly referred to the authorities for comments they made in class and some teachers are shutting down spaces of debate as a result, the motion will say.

Speaking ahead of the motion, which will be discussed at the NUT’s annual conference in Brighton on Saturday, Christine Blower, the union’s general secretary, said: “The precursor position for us is that teachers know that they have a moral as well as a professional responsibility to keep young people safe. That’s keeping them safe from everything from sexual grooming to preventing them from becoming radicalised not just from Islam but also from extreme right wing ideas.

“Young people are more likely to be preyed to radicalisation of one kind or another when they are at home surfing the internet than at school. It’s important that schools have the space and that teachers use the professional judgement to allow for debate to happen. That way young people will have reasonable ideas rather than unreasonable ideas when they are sitting at home in front of the computer.

“We want it to be possible to come into school and know that there is a safe space to discuss ideas and we don’t want teachers feeling that they need to close the space. There are some already thoroughly discussed cases where people have got it wrong.

Her comments followed a conclusion by David Anderson QC, an independent reviewer of the terrorism legislation, who said that “if wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile…”

Ms Blower added: “Of course we have to keep children safe, but we need to review the prevent agenda, which is having the outcome in some spaces of closing down the space for debate rather than allowing for the debate that will vaccinate young people against [radical ideologies].”

Reaction on the motion, Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said: “The requirement on schools to spot and report radicalisation risks teachers over-reacting. Schools themselves should be safe spaces in which ideas can be expressed.

“Let’s trust the teachers, on the one hand, to report real concerns about children attracted to terrorism and, on the other, to protect children from being bullied because of who they are and what they think.”

A government spokesman said: “We make no apology for protecting children and young people from the risks of extremism and radicalisation. It’s irresponsible to draw attention to such ‘sensationalist’ cases and undermine the efforts of teachers who use their judgement and act proportionally. Prevent is playing a key role in identifying children at risk of radicalisation and supporting schools to intervene.

“Good schools will already have been safeguarding children from extremism and promoting fundamental British values long before this duty came into force. We have published guidance on the Prevent Duty and made a wide range of advice and materials available to the sector through our Educate Against Hate website.”

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