Advice on tackling radicalisation

Written by: Hanif Qadir | Published:
Photo: iStock

As schools implement the Prevent Duty to tackle radicalisation among students, Hanif Qadir – a government advisor and leading specialist in positively transforming violent extremists – gives us some key messages

Teachers’ approach towards radicalisation must change. In 2003, when I set up the Active Change Foundation (ACF), few people were aware it was a problem or that it was even a possibility in the UK. But then 7/7 happened and they started to recognise that these problems were not only global but local, too.

More communities – and schools – are now on board with the agenda, but many still don’t appreciate their roles in tackling the problem and it is critical that this changes. School leaders must understand that the threat of radicalisation is not exclusive to certain communities or faiths.

Radicalisation is now both a global and a national issue and there have been cases of extremist radicalisation among young people from different cultures, backgrounds, faiths and genders who are being drawn to Islam because they sympathise with what’s happening in Syria or to Palestinians and they think converting to Islam, joining ISIS or travelling to Syria is the solution without even knowing what’s really happening. Teachers must be mindful of this and appreciate how widespread a problem it is.

School leaders need to be aware of the potential of radicalisation within the school community and not just outside the school gates. Although there is a clear and targeted recruitment drive to radicalise impressionable young people, radicalisation within the school environment isn’t necessarily intentional or deliberate so it may be harder to recognise.

Young people will often share with friends their passion for new learnings or issues about which they feel strongly, and some of those friends may be unable to process that information properly or even look deeper into the subject matter and expose themselves to some challenging realities. They may not have anyone to talk to about it. They may internalise it and try to seek out the solutions, which can often be put forward by extremist groups. They may be consequentially radicalised.

Teachers must keep the debate open. The Prevent Duty guidance is well meaning but it is difficult for teachers to put into practice without a lot of training. As a result this will inevitably shut down debate, which will ultimately cause an internalisation of grievances. The duty poses many challenges, one of which that it is essential to both allow debate to continue and facilitate that debate without harbouring any grievances.

Teachers need to be sensitive and sensible when talking to students, because they are indeed on the front line in identifying changes, but also to encourage open debate. They need to understand that the approach they take can make a real difference. They must not be judgemental. Failing to understand or show empathy towards students can push them further towards extremism.

Certain heads of schools are not on board with the Prevent agenda and, until they participate with this, they are denying young people the opportunity to better themselves and to establish safeguards for themselves and their peers from extremist recruitment.

Teachers need to support young people in their education, in their life and in their future. They need to put young people first. Often young people turn to the ACF because they can’t talk to their parents and they don’t trust their teachers to not go to their parents. Doing this can alienate the individual and push them further into environments beyond their control and where extremist recruiters can easily engage them.

So either a total change of approach between schools and parents is needed or we need to go back to the way we used to address such issues and re-establish those protective factors if we are to safeguard our young people against radicalisation.

More schools should establish a Young Leaders Programme, like the one we run at the ACF. Last year, the ACF’s Young Leaders Programme involved 12 schools in one area and now we are in nine different areas. However, more schools need to be on board with us. The Young Leaders Programme helps to create community leaders among local youth. We need to invest in our youth for the right reasons and not let extremist groups invest in them for the wrong reasons.

The Young Leaders Programme gives young people the confidence and critical thinking skills to understand the techniques that are used by extremist networks when they are recruit It helps them understand how they are being communicated with on social and mainstream media, and it teaches them how to communicate their own thoughts in a positive way.

Young men and women should be given value and confidence by teachers, the police and our leaders. If we don’t show that we value them others will and this won’t always be healthy.

Teachers can help to combat extremism on social media by adopting the “See it, Report it” approach. We need to teach young people how to combat extreme ideas aimed at them and their fellow young men and women. We need to give them the skills to protect themselves from danger – whether this is extremism, domestic violence or bullying. We need to give them guidance. Twitter is now on board with us to help create a community of activists and future leaders.

School leaders should recognise the role that women play. Women – whether they are mothers, sisters or both – need to be made aware of the dangers of radicalisation and understand how to educate children about them.
If teachers only do three things, you should:

  • Consider the difficulties and challenges that all young people are facing – and not just from ISIS, but from other extremist groups like EDL and Britain First.
  • Consider the people who are willing to invest in young people to recruit them if you’re not and you don’t.
  • Understand the hearts and minds and grievances of young men and women and position yourselves to provide the solution before the extremists do.
  • Hanif Qadir is the CEO of the Active Change Foundation, which he founded in 2003 to address radicalisation in communities, including in our schools. He is one of the UK’s leading specialists in positively transforming violent extremists and is actively involved in advising and assisting senior policy-makers in reforming key aspects of the Preventing Violent Extremism agenda.

Seminar on radicalisation

Hanif is speaking at the Academies Show in Birmingham on Wednesday, November 25, about how teachers and school leaders can identify and prevent radicalisation among their students. The show is free for school leaders to attend. Visit

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