The impact that the new legal duty to prevent young people from “being drawn in terrorism” will have on schools is “questionable”, a legal expert has said this week.
The duty, which is contained within the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, comes into effect in July and states that schools must have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
It continues: “Being drawn into terrorism includes not just violent extremism but also non-violent extremism, which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit.”
The law has been introduced after a number of high-profile incidents involving British students travelling or attempting to travel abroad to join Islamic State, including the three London schoolgirls who left for Syria in February.
It comes as the UK is facing unprecedented numbers of citizens joining terror groups abroad, including some 600 foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq who are British citizens.
However, writing in SecEd this week, legal expert Hayley Roberts says that the impact of the new duty will be “questionable”.
She argues that much of the advice contained within the sector-specific statutory guidance on the new legal duty – Prevent Duty Guidance: For England and Wales – only serves to reaffirm existing duties and obligations for schools, including robust safe-guarding procedures, forbidding political indoctrination, securing a balanced presentation of political issues, and promoting British values.
Ms Roberts writes: “Given that schools are already obliged to promote British values and promote mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs, it is difficult to see how this new legal duty will change or add to what schools already do – particularly in light of the lessons learned from the national coverage of the Trojan horse affair.”
The expert, who is an education lawyer at firm Browne Jacobson, also warns that sanctions under the new Act are “soft”.
The guidance states that a failure to comply with the duty could lead to the Prevent oversight board recommending to the secretary of state that a direction be issued to ensure the implementation and delivery of the Prevent duty.
Ms Roberts adds: “This soft sanction would only be used after other options for engagement and improvement had been exhausted. Schools are more likely to be concerned with the fact that failing to meet these expectations (and thus failing to discharge their safeguarding duties) puts them at risk of intervention – which would be the case regardless of whether this new duty was in force or not.
“Ofsted already has regard to the approach to keep pupils safe from dangers of radicalisation and extremism. Given that schools will, for the most part, already comply with the duty, sanctions under the new Act are limited, and Ofsted’s role remains unchanged, the impact the new duty will have on schools is questionable.”
The comments come as a series of seminars have been launched to try and help schools to understand the new duty and the key risks that their students face – particularly online.
The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) says it is running the events to help schools “understand the current threat of extremism and how extremists prey on children both online and offline”.
The seminars are to be led by Birmingham headteacher Kamal Hanif, counter-extremism campaigner Sara Khan, and ASCL parliamentary specialist Anna Cole.
Mr Hanif said: “This is about having a greater understanding around the issues of radicalisation and extremism, how to identify situations and how to deal with them in an appropriate manner, without over-reacting and being alarmist.
“Young people spend a lot of their time on the web and social media and they can easily get drawn into extremist ideas without access to a counter narrative.
“These seminars will help schools and, in turn, parents, who often have no idea that their children are accessing this sort of information, to pick up the signs, and use the appropriate channels in dealing with these concerns. They will help to equip heads with the counter narratives to some of the false claims put out by extremists.”
Ms Cole added: “These seminars are about safeguarding young people, not criminalising them, so that school leaders are able to intervene in the right way at an early stage. The key thing is to put in place proper risk-assessments and have an open culture where different views and ideas can be discussed in an open way.”
ASCL will be holding seven seminars in June and July in Bristol, Birmingham, Cambridge, London, Manchester, Leeds and Durham. Further information CAPTION: New duty: Following high-profile cases of students leaving the UK to join Islamic State in Syria and elsewhere, the government has introduced a new duty on schools to prevent young people being ‘drawn into terrorism’ (Photo: iStock)