The British government on October 8 issued a new guide advising schools on tackling extremism in the classroom, drawing criticism from education unions and experts for subjecting young students for such an experience. The kit, “Learning together to be safe,” will be available to primary and secondary schools across Britain. “We need to address the underlying issues that can drive people into the hands of violent extremist groups,” said Schools Secretary Ed Balls introducing the guide. “Young people are already very much alive to these problems… That is why I am publishing a toolkit for schools to help them contribute to the prevention of violent extremism.” Under a £4.68 million initiative, teachers will be provided with DVDs and booklets to encourage children to discuss issues like terrorism and racism.
It says that community and religious leaders – such as imams – should be invited into schools to take part in lessons. The toolkit alerts teachers to watch out for hate speech, graffiti symbols or writing that promotes extremist messages. It also advises schools to name a teacher to whom pupils can report any concerns of grooming by extremist groups.
The most controversial element is advising teachers to report students they suspect are developing extreme views to authorities, including police.
The UN human rights committee in July disparaged Britain over growing anti-Muslim sentiments, urging a review of its draconian anti-terror measures. Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, is very critical of the new guide. “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,” she said. “But teachers are not trained to deal with radicalisation. We are not spy catchers.”
A similar guidance issued to university lecturers two years ago also caused a storm after professors unions complained they were being asked to spy on their students. Anthony Glees, professor of security and intelligence studies at the University of Buckingham, recognises that teachers and pupils need to be alerted to the threat of radicalisation. “I have to say putting this over to kids who are five-years-old is ridiculous,” he told the BBC. “This is a mistake. You should allow all British children a certain amount of innocence and happy childhood days.”