Page last updated at 08:35 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 09:35 UK

Schools told to counter extremism

Ed Balls
Ed Balls says schools have a "key role" in tackling extremism

Schools are being given advice on how to prevent pupils becoming drawn to violent extremism and terrorism.

Guidelines are being made available to primary and secondary schools in England to help them discuss the issues surrounding extremist views.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said schools could play a "key role" in getting young people to reject extremism.

Schools should have a named teacher to whom pupils can report any concerns of grooming by extremist groups.

Teachers should protect the well-being of pupils who may be vulnerable to being drawn to extremism, says the government's "Learning together to be safe" kit.

'Al-Qaeda'

Mr Balls said the initiative was a direct response to a call from schools for support and advice to tackle extremism.

"This is not about asking teachers to be monitors and to be doing surveillance, that's not their job.

"But if something concerns them, we want them to know who to turn to for help," he said.

Our goal must be to empower our young people to come together to expose violent extremists and reject cruelty and violence in whatever form it takes
Ed Balls, Schools Secretary

"Violent extremism influenced by Al-Qaeda currently poses the greatest security threat but other forms of extremism and hate- or race-based prejudice are also affecting our communities and causing alienation and disaffection amongst young people," he added.

"The toolkit shows how education can be used to tackle all forms of extremism and build a stronger, safer society."

Mr Balls said a security response to terrorism was not enough and that the underlying issues must be addressed.

"Our goal must be to empower our young people to come together to expose violent extremists and reject cruelty and violence in whatever form it takes," he said.

Hatch End High School in Harrow, north-west London, is one of the schools that has been involved with producing the guidance.

World citizens

Head teacher Alan Jones said the important thing was to keep children safe and secure.

"By bringing things into the open, by discussing these sorts of things in school, we're actually improving the safety of all our children."

Mr Jones said while schools were there to teach academic subjects, they also had a duty to develop the wider person.

"It's important to teach about everything in life, to prepare young people to be world citizens," he said.

The National Union of Teachers welcomed the guidance, saying violent political groups presented a significant threat to large numbers of people.

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Acting general secretary Christine Blower said: "Terrorist threats have to be tackled.

"It's worth remembering that groups such as those from the far right can pose intimidatory threats to their communities, as serious as those from al-Qaeda."

And Chris Keates of the NASUWT teachers' union welcomed the way the government had taken on board its representations to ensure the toolkit covered the extremism of fascist and racist groups.

But Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, was more critical.

"We have a duty of care to try to prevent young people descending into illegal activities which could ruin their lives," she said.

"But teachers are not trained to deal with radicalisation. We are not spy catchers.

"School staff believe in having reasoned discussions with pupils, and will welcome the practical advice in the government's anti-extremism tool-kit which builds on the work already being done in schools and colleges.

"But despite what Ed Balls says, the tool-kit over-emphasises concerns about al-Qaeda, while the reality is that more staff in schools and colleges are trying to combat intolerance towards minority groups such as gays and lesbians and travellers, racism, and violence from animal rights extremists."

'Ridiculous'

Anthony Glees, Professor of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, said it was wrong to target young children.

"It's very important that the government has recognised that school teachers and their pupils need to be alerted to the growing threat of radicalisation amongst the young and MI5 has alerted us to this some time ago.

"This is good. It's a sophisticated, security-led tool kit although I have to say putting this over to kids who are five-years-old is ridiculous. This is a problem for 12 years and above.

"This is a mistake. You should allow all British children a certain amount of innocence and happy childhood days. They don't need to know all the things they are being told."


SEE ALSO
What is the extremism 'toolkit'?
08 Oct 08 |  Education
'Why schools must face extremism'
08 Oct 08 |  Education
Teachers urged to combat terror
16 Aug 06 |  Education
Close extremist schools - Kelly
27 Aug 06 |  UK Politics

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