Ofsted, it seems, has a new priority for its inspection of schools and it does not relate to any traditional notion of education. Instead, since July, schools and “childcare providers” are, according to the DfE, “subject to a duty under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, in the exercise of their functions, to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. This duty is known as the Prevent Duty.”
Any head teacher doubting the importance of this new “Duty” would be well advised to note the observation of Andrew Gregory of Victus, a leading provider of training in support of “Prevent”. He had this message for schools in a news release dated October 4th 2015:
“In my discussions with schools leaders who have recently received an inspection from Ofsted, all have told me that implementation of the Prevent Duty was at the top of the inspectors’ agenda.”
So there we have it! The new priority for teachers is no longer literacy or numeracy, science or foreign languages, history or geography. It is policing toddlers and teens for signs of radicalisation.
BBC Radio 4’s Today programme managed to catch up with a primary school in Birmingham that has been much praised for its implementation of the “Prevent Duty” and may become a model for schools across the country. The school concerned has already referred three children to “the authorities” after they were deemed to have shown “signs of extremism”. The age of these children has not been reported but lies between 4 and 11 years.
The school’s head teacher told the BBC that radicalism can be spotted readily enough: “It might even come out in a geography lesson or a history lesson. Something that is inappropriate, or a change in a child, a change of their attitude, a comment they may make…”. Apparently, out-of-school residential trips can be particularly informative, as when a Muslim pupil wanted a prayer room even though his school does not provide one. Another sign, apparently, would be a pupil who says that Muslim girls should be wearing a headscarf when they are off school premises.
Current concern about radicalisation in schools is understandable but it can easily descend into the witch-hunting hysteria depicted in Arthur Miller’s Crucible. We may not yet be into a period of McCarthyism but there are signs that we are travelling in that direction.
Ironically, if anyone should be in the dock for radicalising our children it should be the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan. Her requirement for schools to promote tolerance and understanding of those with whom one may disagree, under her “British Values” agenda, is an open invitation for radicalised teachers to promote extremism in the classroom. If all views need to be tolerated and understood, teachers will need to present liberal democracy and intolerant theocracy as different but equal points of view – ‘value relativism’. And why on earth is she sticking with a National Curriculum for History that places Islamic and West African history on a prescribed list but makes all of the defining landmarks and personalities of British history, including Magna Carta, Churchill and the two World Wars, optional.
For their catastrophic own goals it is the Education Secretary and her advisers in the security forces who should be in the dock, not young children who request the use of a prayer room or who speak out of turn in a geography lesson.