Campaigners urge schools not to rush to report pupils to Prevent in wake of escalated Israel-Palestine conflict

It is right that young people will want to discuss issues of terrorism, human rights and humanitarian obligations in the context of the current crisis in Israel and Palestine. Many will have strong opinions and feelings about the matter which will need to be handled sensitively and professionally by teachers.

Open Rights Group and Prevent Watch have serious concerns that current government advice to schools will place pupils and their teachers at risk rather than enabling discussion and proper debate of the topics. These concerns have been exacerbated by disturbing reports that the Met are increasing intelligence-gathering at schools.

Earlier this month, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan wrote to both schools and universities about the crisis and its impact on children and young people. Both letters remind educational establishments of their responsibilities under the Prevent duty, which requires them to report students if they are concerned that they could be drawn into terrorism.

Prevent is not about unlawful ideas, but about lawful ideas that are judged to be extreme. Instead of any issues of concern being addressed within the classroom, or in private discussion, by a teacher familiar with the student, they become a matter for external authorities, including counter-terrorism police. This will be distressing for the young person and it will be something that is recorded and potentially shared with other agencies, even if the referral does not proceed further.

Prevent is a flawed programme that undermines freedom of expression. It has been shown disproportionately to impact Muslims, something that will be accentuated in the context of Israel/Palestine. Since 2015 there have been more than 45,000 Prevent referrals. The overwhelming majority were never progressed to a Channel deradicalisation intervention, either being dropped or subsumed into other safeguarding interventions.

We believe schools need to be supported in how they encourage freedom of expression, rather than being compelled to surveil and potentially report their pupils.

In addition, Keegan’s letter to schools acknowledges the horror of the Hamas attacks and how this might impact on students, but makes no reference to similar consequences of Israel’s attacks onGaza, which are estimated to have killed over 8,000 people and wounded many thousands more. Schools need to ensure that children feel safe to talk about all aspects of world events that affect them.

Sophia Akram, Programme Manager at Open Rights Group, highlighted the ongoing risks from Prevent referrals:

“When teachers and others working with young people and children report them to Prevent, they unlikely appreciate the potential ramifications of that action to that young person or child.

“The reality is that the referral becomes a stain on their record, which could be shared between multiple databases between police forces, local authority systems and other records – possibly indefinitely. That’s a heavy charge on someone in their formative years who is simply attempting to process the calamitous world around them.”

Dr. Layla Aitlhadj, Director, Prevent Watch said:

“Young people should be able to develop their ideas and have them discussed and challenged in an environment that supports them. Having different opinions, questioning government policies and being moved by humanitarian crises should be encouraged, rather than discouraged. They should not face the threat of being interviewed by counter-terrorism police. Young Muslims should not be made to feel that their voices should not be heard.”

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