Student well-being and mental health is now high on the agenda of most schools; as it should be. The idea of students requiring support, advice and time to discuss their feelings of possible loneliness, depression and alienation is a positive one. Creating opportunities in schools to address students’ perceived stress and emotional well-being is an honourable and much-needed intervention. But, do we have the same approach for all of our students?
Well, we don’t if they’re subjected to Prevent. Prevent is a Government initiative to, “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. However, it is far more than that. As Arun Kundnani describes, it has become, “the basis for one of the most elaborate programs of surveillance and social control attempted in a Western state in recent decades” An excellent brief history of the Prevent agenda and how Counter Terrorism has infiltrated the state, by Dr. Maria Norris, can be found here.
As I have written before, we live in a time where Muslim students are referred to Contest (part of the Prevent agenda) on a daily basis (there are currently eight referrals a day, 80% are not carried through and there is no real evidence that the system is actually working) for asking for Prayer rooms facilities, using the French word “l’ecoterrorisme” and even (unfortunately, this is also true) for wearing a shalwar kameez on non uniform day. It is always our job to consider and understand the importance of creating ‘safe spaces’ for our students (especially our Muslim students), where authentic debate and discussions can happen without surveillance or suspicion.
The call to end Prevent has never been stronger – see MEND’s (Muslim ENgagement and Development) article on “Ditching Prevent.” The Government’s Counter Terrorism deterrent is based on many fictitious ideas that have never actually been proven or are completely unfounded. These include, the conveyor belt theory (the idea that non-violent extremism acts as a conveyor belt to violent extremism), governments (both left and right) considering that the expression of a certain ideology from certain individuals as being ‘unacceptable’, the constantly discussed definition of what extremism actually is (interestingly, the term extremism was first used in British politics to refer to anti-colonial militants in India who wanted independence), the ignorant search for a moderate and palatable Islam (see this wonderful piece on ‘British Islam’) and the fact that evaluating the effectiveness of Prevent is almost impossible as the overall success is to produce a ‘non-event’, “the absence of terrorism; deciding whether something has not happened because of a policy requires the proving of a negative.” (A Decade Lost: Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism by Professor Arun Kundnani). Add to this the complete disregard students have of Prevent and the recent evidence that the training delivered to schools and colleges is of such a low quality, then we have a serious problem.
When the educational landscape is awash with ‘what works’ and evidence based practice it seems absurd that there are too few educationalists opposing this.
Or perhaps they are, but we just don’t see or hear them.
The recent Twitter storm for #ScrapPrevent was a prime example of a noticeable lack of white/non-Muslim contributions to such an important and damaging disease in our schools, colleges and universities.
In this following section, the questions and discussion are for the white/non-Muslim teacher, many, if not all BME and Muslim educators are unfortunately very much aware of this state sponsored racism.
Let’s be honest with ourselves, are we as vocal opposing Prevent as we once were? Or has it gone off our radar now? Is it more or as important as the Grammar school debate? Have we put it on the back burner as it’s no longer on our SMT’s agenda of Ofsted related things to do? My worry stems from the notion that teachers – both experienced and new to the profession – may see the Prevent strategy as either entirely needed and reasonable – see the recent TES article from Sara Khan or forget the dangers of Prevent altogether because it doesn’t affect students that are ‘like us’. Have ‘we’ forgotten about Prevent? The theory of otherness in education has never been so important.
When the media’s portrayal of Muslims and Islam is more akin to the Ludovico Technique as appeared in Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Do your Muslim students genuinely understand that you are different to the people they constantly see on the TV and read on Social Media? If you don’t say anything contrary to this, how will they know? Working hard on our teacher and student relationships, sharing and celebrating the ideas of difference and respect is a start. Asking your children about what ignites them and guides them is another invaluable teaching skill. Are your students comfortable or even aware of your stance and opinion of them and what they believe in? Think carefully about how your views could be interpreted. It could be something as minor, yet potentially damaging, as regularly pronouncing student names incorrectly, or always using Eurocentric resources and histories, confirming the idea that certain student identities, narratives and beliefs are inferior to that of their teacher and school, or something as powerful as their Headteacher publicly declaring voting for a politician who openly supports the Prevent strategy.
My concerns are exacerbated, as last year a third of all Prevent referrals came from teachers. As previously noted, the quality of training is questionable as well as the motives behind individuals and groups who deliver the ‘training’ (it is worth considering that Counter Terrorism/Extremism and Fundamental British Value CPD for schools – in essence supporting government policies – is a very profitable exercise, both financially and to assist wanted recognition.)
The ‘better to be safe than sorry – refer them’ approach which is often peddled out in these Prevent school training sessions is ridiculously dangerous, as lives, families and communities can be permanently devastated.
We need to recognise and not forget that Prevent is fundamentally wrong (as suggested recently by the Vice Chancellor at Oxford University) and potentially decide not to be any part of it, as Edinburgh College have courageously done.
This post was easy to write and far too easy to evidence. However, thinking about what needs to be done proves to be significantly more difficult, a difficulty that I struggle with constantly. Although I have suggested realistic recommendations it relies on the strength of current teachers and leaders to reflect on these ideas and how it affects their students and schools, as well as thinking and acting on how it can be changed.
The notion of ensuring that all schoolchildren get the education they deserve; one where they are free to debate, argue, express and be proud of their informed and measured views is one that needs to be provided to every student – yes, even the Muslim ones.