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One third of Channel referrals made by educators

One third of Channel referrals made by educators

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday July 13 2016

The Guardian publishes an article ahead of the launch of a report by Rights Watch UK today on the impact of the Prevent statutory duty on Muslims in the education sector.

Channel, the controversial counter-terrorism programme which rests upon ‘referrals’ to the process of individuals suspected of vulnerability to radicalisation, was placed on a statutory footing with the passing of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act in February 2015.

With the imposition of the new duty on “specified authorities”, including schools, a raft of training materials for educators has been underway to help them identify the “signs of radicalisation”.

The duty has been fraught with criticisms deriving from the lack of empirical evidence to validate the premise of the “conveyor belt theory” and its unproven presumption of a causal link between violent and non-violent extremism. The Channel programme, in effect, relies upon this unproven presumption with its focus on identifying individuals whose ‘non-violent extremism’ is a precursor to the risk of ‘violent extremism’.

The Guardian article relates statistics published by the National Police Chiefs Council which shows a total of 3,994 referrals were made to the Channel programme in 2015. Of these, a third, 1,319, came from the education sector.

When broken down by religion, the largest group of those identified for referral were Muslims with 1,394 individuals of Muslim background referred in 2015.

The figures also show the majority of referrals are of individuals aged under 18, accounting for 54% of cases in 2015.

The figures are not comprehensive, because both the religious identity category and the sector category are not mandatory fields and consequently NPCC figures do not disclose the total numbers of Muslims referred to Channel or those who have been referred within the education sector. The figures are certainly indicative of a bias toward the referral of Muslims but are not conclusive of the extent of the bias.

The Guardian article reveals that the number of “supportive interventions” arising from the referrals made in 2015 was a mere 293 – or 7% of all cases.

This is a significant drop from the proportion of “supportive interventions” identified by the NPCC between 2007 and 2014 when 20% of all referrals were met with tailored intervention packages.

The low ‘hit rate’ suggests that a huge number of referrals are being made without justification. The impact on young children, in terms of self-esteem or negative effect on learning, do not appear to be considered with much of the interest in Channel referrals focusing on the numbers and not on the sociological or psychological impact

Yasmine Ahmed, author of the Rights Watch UK report on the Prevent duty and its harmful effects on education and young people, said, “We have uncovered a number of instances where children have been referred to Prevent for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression in situations where they pose no threat to society whatsoever.”

“Our research has found that Muslim children across the United Kingdom are self-censoring for fear of being reported under Prevent,” she added.

Ahmed put the problem of “arbitrary” referrals down to “teachers who have received poor training”.

Among cases that have come to national attention are a pupil who was identified for referral after he expressed pro-Palestinian views; a pupil who used the phrase “eco-terrorism” in a classroom discussion about environmental damage and climate change; a young child who mis-spelt the word “cucumber”, but whose spelling error and another who mistakenly referred to a “terrorist house” when he meant “terraced house”.

Will Baldet, a Prevent co-ordinator in Leicester, tells the paper that the high referral rate stems from the introduction of the duty and the “refer, refer, refer” attitude of practitioners poorly prepared in the exercise of the new duty.

But the explanation doesn’t hold water given the exponential rise in the number of referrals between 2010 and 2015. According to NPCC figures, the number of referrals in 2008/09 was 179. This jumped to 467 in 2009/10 and rose again in 2010/11 to 599. In 2011/12 the figure fell marginally to 580 before rising again in 2012/13 and 2013/14 to 748 and 1281 respectively.

By the NPCC’s own admission, the rejection of 80% of referrals between the period 2007 and 2014 would suggest that poor training pre-dates the introduction of the statutory duty and is not a product of it though it may well have exacerbated the subsequent impact.

During the passage of the CTS Bill in parliament at the beginning of last year, amendments were tabled by members of the House of Lords seeking an evaluation of the Prevent strategy to date in order to inform any subsequent expansion in the form of of a statutory duty. The Prevent programme has not undergone periodic independent review and the little that we are able to glean of its operational failings come from annual reports published by the Intelligence and Security Committee in 2008/09 and 2010/11.

Focusing on the exponential growth in the number of Channel referrals and the rate of rejection ignores the more fundamental question of who delivers the training on complying with the Prevent duty and are there processes in place to hold them accountable for “poor training” and the consequences that flow from it?

A cursory look at the Prevent Training Catalogue published in March 2016 offers a useful insight into the organisations involved in the ‘Prevent compliance industry’.

The training materials and trainers listed in the catalogue is a fusion of the usual suspects and “known unknowns” given the lack of transparency on some company websites about who is behind them.

Among those listed is Avon and Somerset constabulary, to whom Inspire’s Kalsoom Bashir has been seconded. Inspire get a second mention in the form of a video featuring Sara Khan and produced with the London Grid for Learning.

A company called Pacata consulting is listed and claims to be “experienced in training teachers” and sets as its aims: “To help differentiate between extremist behaviour and ordinary Muslim behaviour and to provide an awareness of the issues around radicalisation, extremism and how vulnerable individuals can be identified and supported.”

The link to the company redirects to the webpage for New Horizons in British Islam.

The Education Training Foundation is one of those listed as providing training at around £500 per delegate. Their website states “over 100,000 people have enrolled on the four current, Home Office approved modules, since the launch in August 2015.” The company recently launched a further four modules.

Another provider listed is Facets Consulting Ltd. The Company Check website puts the company at two years old and names its director as Irfan Chishti MBE. The company provides training programmes in collaboration with Rewind UK with a range of programmes on far right and Islamist extremist ideology costing from £500 to £1500. According to the catalogue, the programme “Equip[s] participants with knowledge and confidence in recognising and referring cases of concern.”

SSS Learning is listed in the catalogue and its website states the company possesses a “highly qualified, award-winning team” but doesn’t name any particular member or provide details of his/her area of expertise. SSS Learning also provides training for the health and voluntary sectors with helpful information on delegate costs for attending training,

Victus Ltd is another company listed in the catalogue. The company includes among its staff Dr Mohammed Abdel Haq, whom the website states was appointed “chairman of the UK Ministerial Advisory Group on extremism in universities and further education colleges”.

While the figures showing the huge rise in Channel referrals and the high of rates of rejection present Muslim pupils and their parents with difficulties as a consequence of “teachers who have received poor training”, one has to wonder at the lack of due assessment and accountability of those invested in the ‘Prevent compliance industry’ and the  patent lack of regard for its counter-productive effects on countering extremism.


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