Page last updated at 10:55 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 11:55 UK

'Why schools must face extremism'

Ed Balls
Ed Balls has been discussing extremism with young people

England's Schools Secretary Ed Balls has produced a "toolkit" for schools on how they can help combat terrorism and violent extremism.

He writes that this is one of the "most challenging issues" a teacher will come across and "requires great professionalism and sensitivity".

Tackling violent extremism is not a new challenge for this country. When I was at school there was the seemingly ever-present threat from terrorists, starkly illustrated on our TV screens with scenes of bombings in Birmingham and Guildford.

And in history lessons up and down the country, children still learn about the actions of Guy Fawkes and his November plot to blow up Parliament.

But as times change the threat evolves. The principal cause for security concerns today come from groups linked to Al Qaida, who use an ideology that twists the teachings of a peaceful religion into a justification for extreme violence.

Meanwhile other forms of extremism and racial or hate-driven prejudice are sowing divisions in our communities and causing alienation among a small minority of young people.

We have learnt from past experience that a security response is not enough.

I have been struck by the commitment and engagement from all communities to come together to challenge those who seek to undermine the principles of respect and tolerance on which our society is based

We need to address the underlying issues that can drive people into the hands of violent extremist groups and encourage local communities to come together to expose the flaws in extremists’ arguments, to reject cruelty and violence and promote core British values of tolerance, liberty, fairness and the rule of law.

Young people are already very much alive to these problems and are keen for the opportunity to express their views and air their concerns. A recent report by the UK Youth Parliament showed 94% of young people think schools are the best environment to discuss preventing terrorism and violent extremism.

That is why I am publishing a toolkit for schools to help them contribute to the prevention of violent extremism.

It shows how schools can help pupils of all ages to develop the knowledge and skills to challenge and debate, through programmes such as Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) in primary schools and citizenship in secondary schools, and encourages an ethos which promotes respect and engagement with the wider community around the school.

I have spent the last few months discussing the challenges of preventing violent extremism with young people, teachers and other professionals across the country. I have been struck by the commitment and engagement from all communities to come together to challenge those who seek to undermine the principles of respect and tolerance on which our society is based.

Sensitivity

A small minority of schools have had to deal with the consequences of pupils or former pupils being caught up with criminal activity linked to extremist views, or of their local communities being affected by violent extremist activities.

This must be one of the most challenging issues a teacher will come across and requires great professionalism and sensitivity.

This is not about teachers monitoring pupils. Instead the toolkit responds to feedback from teachers and others on the need for more practical advice on how to support vulnerable pupils, working alongside other local partners and community organisations.

It contains case studies such as a programme with Muslims in Oxford which equips pupils with arguments against a violent extremist ideology and helps to develop the foundation of a British-Islamic identity.

And because a local partnership approach, tailored to the needs of particular communities, is so important, I am providing funding to all local authorities so they can lead in providing local information to go alongside the toolkit to support schools in this work.

The toolkit shows how schools can build on work they are already doing. For example from this year Ofsted will begin to inspect schools on their duty to promote community cohesion; and since its trial in Bradford, many schools are now engaged in school linking projects which see children from different cultures, religions and backgrounds coming together to work together on joint projects.

This kind of cooperative spirit can help break down the barriers between different groups that can lead to mistrust.

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
Mary Bousted
Association of Teachers and Lecturers

I am constantly impressed by our nation's young people. They give me great hope for Britain’s future.

Yesterday the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears and I met the new Young Muslims’ Advisory Group. They displayed all the intelligence, maturity and insight that young people are all too rarely credited with. They also displayed a refreshing lack of cynicism. But they made the point that many young people do have genuine grievances that need to be aired – rather than allowed to fester.

They represented all that is best about multi-cultural Britain based on our core values: engagement with the community, wider society and politics; an ability to discuss controversial issues without resort to polarised rhetoric; an interest and acceptance of other cultures while retaining pride in their own; and a confidence that this country can accommodate different races, religions and ideals - indeed that tolerance is a defining characteristic of being British.

I think with groups like this, who have that unique power to influence their peers, plus advice to school staff and the wider community, such as the toolkit published today, we can begin to work towards a country in which terrorism really is consigned to history.




SEE ALSO
Teachers urged to combat terror
16 Aug 06 |  Education
Close extremist schools - Kelly
27 Aug 06 |  UK Politics

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