PREVENT requires schools to monitor pupils for their potential to become radicalised into extremist views and become terrorist.
While PREVENT doesn’t specify that schools should focus mainly on preventing Muslims from becoming extremist, an increasing body of research suggests this is what happens and as a result PREVENT as a policy is discriminatory.
What is Prevent?
PREVENT was introduced in 2015 and today forms part of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy. Schools are among those institutions which are required to prevent young people from being drawn into terrorism.
The government notes that terrorism is often driven by extremist beliefs and for the sake of prevent defines extremism as:
“vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” (1)
PREVENT requires Local Education Authorities to use terrorist risk profiles to assess the risk of certain students being drawn into terrorism, and where necessary take appropriate action, which might mean sharing information with other agencies such as the police themselves.
However for the most part PREVENT requires that schools teach British Values and the importance of community cohesion.
Problems with PREVENT
In 2015 the Muslim Council of Great Britain raised a number of concerns (2) that the way PREVENT was being deployed in schools was both discriminatory against Muslims and having a harmful effect on mainly Muslim children.
They noted that 60% of referrals under PREVENT had been against Muslim children, even though they only made up 5% of the population, while only 10% of referrals were for white extremists, despite the growth in far right views in Britain.
They cite a number of case studies such as:
- A two year old with learning difficulties being referred to social services after singing an Islamic song and then saying “Allahu Akbar” spontaneously afterwards.
- Two students were referred to Senior Leadership Team at one school for making way for a female student and lowering their gaze as she went past.
- In one school a physics teacher referred a Muslim student to the PREVENT team because he asked how to make a bomb, he hadn’t made a similar referral for a white student who had asked the same previously.
Human Rights Watch (3) argues that the implementation of PREVENT has violated students’ right to education and freedom of expression, making many Muslim students feel as if they cannot freely discuss religious and political issues for fear of being referred to the police.
The report cites the case of one eight year old who was subjected to an interrogation by authorities because a teacher mis-identified a name in Arabic on his T-shirt.
The main problem has been relying on teachers who are not well trained enough to identify the signs of radicalisation in children. Because of lack of training and mis-interpretation, some teachers end up alienating mainly Muslim students.
PREVENT and Islamophobia
Even though the 2021 update of PREVENT guidance doesn’t specify that school policy should be specifically focused on preventing Islamic extremism (NB the 2015 original version of PREVENT did), in practice PREVENT is usually interpreted through an Islamophobic lens.
In other words, schools mainly target Muslim students with PREVENT policies.
Jerome et al (4) cite survey research which found that over half of Black and Ethnic Minority students feel stigmatised by the PREVENT policy and feel as if the policy has made the creation of an ethnically inclusive school environment more difficult.
Signposting and Related Posts
This material is mainly relevant to the education topic within the sociology of education.
(1) Gov.UK (2021) Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales.
(2) Muslim Council of Great Britain (2015) Concerns on Prevent.
(3) Human Rights Watch (2016) Preventing Education.
(4) Jerome et Al (2019) The Impact of the Prevent Duty on Schools: A Review of the Evidence.