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The Prevent strategy and faith schools

The Prevent strategy and faith schools

Categories: Latest News

Monday June 13 2011

  The Sunday Express front page yesterday covered news of  “experts in Islamic extremism” to be recruited to the Department of Education to “identify dangerous radicals in schools” as part of the new Prevent strategy.

From the paper:

“Experts in Islamic extremism have been drafted in by Education Secretary Michael Gove to identify dangerous radicals in schools.

“The counter-intelligence advisers, who worked for many years at the Home Office, have the most detailed knowledge of terror networks around the globe and their affiliates in the UK. They will work with a new Government unit to prevent extremism and will hunt down Muslim radicals hijacking learning and grooming school pupils from primary level onwards to create the terrorists of the future.

“Intelligence sources have become aware that extremists are increasingly using schools and after-school clubs to brainwash children against the West.

“Mr Gove said: “The due diligence unit will monitor applications for new schools and arrangements in existing schools so there’s no risk of extremism taking hold.

““We want to help local authorities and others deal either with governors trying to hijack a school or extremists setting up free schools. Whether it’s religious extremism or political extremism, that power will be there.”

“The handpicked team will monitor groups setting up new free schools as well as mounting spot checks on how existing schools are being run.

“An Education Department source said it had become increasingly obvious that schools watchdog Ofsted was not rooting out those preaching hate to pupils and were still allowing “soft inspections”.

“The think-tank Civitas revealed that not only were Ofsted inspectors ignoring failures in Muslim schools because they did not want to cause offence, but many were not qualified to assess Islamic schools. They failed to report those that banned music as un-Islamic or were linked to extremist material through websites.”

It is worthwhile documenting the relevant paragraphs from the Prevent strategy which deal with the issue of schools and children. The strategy details the approach to be taken to schools as children as follows:

Paragraph 10.55:

Over the lifetime of this strategy, DfE will undertake the following Prevent-related work in England:

• ensure that teachers and other school staff know what to do when they see signs that a child is at risk of radicalisation;

• continue to collaborate and encourage collaboration with policing and the development of products for teachers;

• as part of the planned changes to the inspection arrangements for maintained schools, give due weight to schools’ activities in support of our shared values, and for any concerns to be reflected in the report;

• strengthen the Independent School Standards to ensure that schools understand their obligations;

• establish a set of standards for teachers which clarifies obligations regarding extremism;

• provide effective financial and non-financial ‘due diligence’ to minimise the risk that those with unacceptable views can set up Free Schools or gain control of academies or other publicly-funded schools;

• work with the Charity Commission to ensure that schools that are charities and under their jurisdiction comply with charity law;

• work to reduce the risk that children and young people are exposed to extremist views in out of school hours provision; and

• help children’s services work with schools and other agencies, including Channel, to identify children at risk of radicalisation and take necessary steps to protect them from harm.

The content for the Sunday Express story arises from paragraphs 10.32 and 10.33 of the Prevent strategy:

10.32 There have been allegations that a minority of independent faith schools have been actively promoting views that are contrary to British values, such as intolerance of other cultures and gender inequality. There have also been reports that some independent faith schools have allowed extremist views to be expressed by staff, visitors or pupils. In 2009, Ofsted found that 8 out of 51 independent faith schools surveyed were found to be displaying teaching materials that had a bias in favour of one particular group. Some teaching materials were also seen to contain biased or incorrect information about other religions.

10.33 Recent media reports have suggested that some madrassahs are promoting a highly conservative version of Islam and promulgating extremist views, particularly against non-Muslims. A BBC Panorama investigation in November 2010 reported that some madrassahs were using textbooks with anti-Semitic and homophobic messages. The Government is currently considering ways to stop children coming into contact with material of this kind in and out of school provision.

The sources cited include the Policy Exchange report, “Faith Schools we can believe in” which formed the basis of the BBC Panorama programme earlier this year, “British Schools, Islamic Rules” and the report by Denis MacEoin for Civitas, “Music, Chess and other Sins”.

It is worth recalling the statement of the Association of Muslim Schools to the Civitas report which for all its efforts to uncover bad practices as Muslim faith schools did so without visiting a single one.

The Association of Muslim Schools issued a statement to say:

“We are particularly disappointed but not surprised that the report has been drafted and edited by individuals who have a track record of producing literature that is divisive, poorly researched and does not stand up to serious independent scrutiny. The authors did not visit a single Muslim school as confirmed by page xiv of the summary.”

It is absolutely proper that the government should look to take action on the teaching of intolerance in schools but in doing so it must be certain that it is acting on facts and not polemics. As we’ve come to know of Denis MacEoin, polemics take precedence over facts, something attested to in the controversial report “The Hijacking of British Islam” which he authored for Policy Exchange.

It is also worthwhile pointing to the work of Show Racism the Red Card in educating schoolchildren on racism and anti-Muslim prejudice. In tackling intolerance and the exploitation of schoolchildren by those intent on poisoning young minds, the approach must be based on correct assessment of the scale of the problem and its nature.

The Prevent strategy also states in paragraph 10.44:

“We regard Prevent work with children and with schools as an important part of the strategy. But this work needs to be proportionate. It must not start from a misplaced assumption that there is a significant problem that needs to be resolved. We have seen some evidence of very limited radicalisatio
n of children by extremist or terrorist groups. There is further evidence that some schools – and some supplementary schools – have used teaching materials which may encourage intolerance. And we know that some extremist or terrorist organisations have held positions of influence in education or in other organisations working closely with children. But these issues must be kept in perspective. And they are not all within the remit of Prevent.”

Something the Sunday Express chose to wholly ignore when compiling its latest front page farce.

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