The Prevent Duty in schools

Written by: Robin Jacobs | Published:
Photo: iStock

Robin Jacobs considers the practical steps schools need to take in order to comply with their legal obligations under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act.

Since July 2015, all schools have been under a legal duty to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism” when exercising their functions. This is known as the Prevent Duty and it comes from the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

The government has published various pieces of guidance on the duty and what it entails, and schools will want to be familiar with all of the following:

The duty and guidance

Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales: This is general guidance to which all public bodies who are subject to the Prevent Duty (i.e. not just schools) must have regard. It was first published in March 2015. An updated version has been drafted and is available to view online but this has not yet been officially adopted. Paragraphs 57 to 76 of the guidance are concerned specifically with schools and childcare providers: www.gov.uk/government/publications/prevent-duty-guidance

The Prevent Duty, Departmental Advice for Schools and Childcare Providers: This is non-statutory advice aimed specifically at schools. Published in June 2015, it is designed “to help recipients understand the implications of the Prevent Duty”: http://bit.ly/1VgKvCS

The Use of Social Media for Online Radicalisation: This is a short document published by the Department for Education (DfE) in July 2015. It explains how terrorist groups use social media to encourage travel to Syria and Iraq. It gives examples of common propaganda themes and the channels through which they are communicated: http://bit.ly/1MxFVsk

A clear focus

Although the sentiment behind the Prevent Duty and its associated guidance is clear, the government might have done more to clarify the practical steps that schools are expected to take.
Saying that schools are expected to “promote British values” and that staff have a duty to “protect pupils for extremism” is not especially helpful, not least as schools have always been under a duty to teach a broad and balanced curriculum and to safeguard their pupils. However, it seems that schools would do well to focus on the following.

Staff training

There appears to be an expectation that staff should be trained to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism, and to challenge extremist ideas. They should also know where and how to refer children for further help. The DfE should be able to identify suitable courses and providers.

IT policies

The DfE expects schools to ensure children are safe from terrorist and extremist material when accessing the internet in school, including by establishing appropriate levels of filtering.
Given that many pupils now own SmartPhones, the effectiveness of this may well be limited. However, there is nevertheless a clear expectation that schools will put filters in place and this should therefore be done.

The DfE appears to recognise that older students and staff may need to research terrorism and counter-terrorism as part of their studies, but expects institutions to be able to identify where online materials are accessed for curriculum purposes.

The curriculum

The guidance encourages schools to create opportunities for debating issues connected to extremism within a safe and controlled setting. Any activities will obviously need to be age and ability-appropriate.

Risk-assessments

Headteachers and governors should be assessing whether any students are at risk of being drawn into terrorism. Assessments will vary from school to school and should be based on local factors. They should also include some consideration of whether children are likely to be exposed to terrorist ideology, including extremist ideas, beyond the school gates. Ideally, a written document should be produced, outlining any perceived risks and how they are to be guarded against.

Local authority partnerships

Schools would be well advised to consider how the Local Children’s Safeguarding Board is approaching the Prevent Duty, to refer to locally agreed inter-agency procedures, and to ensure that these are consistent with and reflected in any school child protection policies.

Written policies

Schools may wish to consider publishing a written policy setting out their commitment to fulfilling the Prevent Duty and summarising the steps they intend to take. Such a document can provide a useful point of reference.

Conclusion

The DfE has set up a counter-extremism hotline for schools (open Monday to Friday excluding bank holidays). The contact details are counter.extremism@education.gsi.gov.uk and 020 7340 7264, and schools should not hesitate to seek advice in the event that they have any questions or concerns.

As far as enforcement is concerned, Ofsted inspectors already have regard to a school’s approach to keeping pupils safe from the dangers of radicalisation and extremism, and what is done when it is suspected that pupils are vulnerable to these.

As has been seen in Birmingham, maintained schools may be declared eligible for intervention if they are adjudged to have failed in this regard, while academies may have their funding agreements terminated. However, heads and governors can take heart from the DfE’s view – as set out in the guidance – that the Prevent Duty is entirely consistent with pre-existing safeguarding responsibilities and should not be burdensome.

  • Robin Jacobs is a barrister with Buckinghamshire Law Plus who specialises in education law. He routinely assists schools on a range of legal matters.


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