Prevent Watch

NEU2023: Prevent in education and civil liberties in the classroom

prevent in education neu2023

Jump to...

A closer look at the function of Prevent in education reveals serious errors by William Shawcross, both in his recommendations and in his understanding of how Prevent works in schools.

Wiliam Shawcross dealt wrongly with Prevent in education as part of his review. He argues that individuals subject to Prevent should be viewed as ‘susceptible’ rather than ‘vulnerable’ to being drawn into terrorism.

This means that individuals subject to a Prevent intervention should be considered as responsible agents, and that Prevent interventions should focus on ideologies expressed.

However, since 2015, the Prevent duty has been couched in terms of ‘safeguarding’, and this suggests that a Prevent intervention is in the interest of the individual to safeguard them from some harm.

This shift in framing was a deliberate move to make implementation of the Prevent duty more palatable.

Indeed, studies have found that, “situating Prevent as ‘safeguarding’ appears to have played a fundamental role in allaying anxieties about the duty and leading staff to see this as a continuation of their existing professional practices”.

The People’s Review of Prevent evidenced that Prevent does not meet this requirement for safeguarding and causes harm, resulting in an erosion of trust at the core of safeguarding.

Surprisingly, the Shawcross review makes a similar admission about the incompatibility of Prevent with safeguarding – but for different reasons.

Shawcross’s concern is that the emphasis on safeguarding has gone too far, and he downplays the notion of ‘vulnerability’. Why does he do this?

Justifying anti-Muslim bias

Shawcross wishes to draw the focus on right-wing extremism more narrowly and that of ‘Islamist’ extremism more broadly. Except that the most significant number of Prevent referrals were of the category Mixed Unstable and Unclear (MUU).

In 2021/22, this category was disaggregated into separate parts (in 2020/21, it made up 51% of all referrals, compared with 25% for right-wing radicalisation and 22% for ‘Islamist’ radicalisation; in
2021/22 the numbers for the latter two categories were 20% and 16% respectively).

With the MMU category disaggregated in 2021/22, 33% (2,127) of referrals were for individuals with a vulnerability present, but no ideology or counter-terrorism risk.

Shawcross cites the fact that only 30% of MUUs were adopted onto Channel, suggesting that the “MUU category is facilitating large numbers of individuals being unnecessarily referred to Prevent”.

However, this is equally true of those referred for ‘Islamist’ extremism, based on the statistics pertaining to this group.

The ratio of referrals to adoptions for right-wing extremism would, by the same logic, suggest that too few are being referred.

Arguing away the MUU category

Shawcross is of the view that since the ideological motivation under MUU is unclear, it shouldn’t
really come under counter terrorism.

He states that these “individuals often have social and behavioural issues, as well as mental health and neurodevelopmental conditions”.

He also cites a RICU report that a school massacre attack would not count as terrorism, “because this phenomenon is not an ideology and is typically motivated by personal grievances”.

He also notes that RICU includes misogynistic, incel online subculture as ‘unclear’ within the MUU classification.

Shawcross suggests that the MUU category captures ‘vulnerabilities’ that should be addressed outside Prevent, through hate crime legislation.

Prevent in education and double standards for Muslim children

Since it is schools that are also confronting issues of misogyny and incel subculture, could that be an indication that safeguarding in schools more broadly might properly be conducted outside Prevent?

Then there might be a general focus in schools about different kinds of hatred.

But, despite identifying MUU as involving these kinds of issues, Mr Shawcross has nothing to say on how schools might tackle the topic, only that it should be outside Prevent.

Following this logic, and when considering children especially – who under principles of justice cannot be assumed to possess ideological intent to commit violence, and whose ideas and beliefs are expressed often as a matter of exploration and growth – removing Prevent from schools should be a clear conclusion.

But it is not. Instead, Shawcross’s more hardline approach will retain Prevent in education and funnel more Muslim children through a Prevent process involving greater involvement of police in schools, data collection and retention, and making religious belief a source of anxiety.

This is not only counter-productive in the classroom and broader society, but the lack of logic reveals well-known biases and assumptions; and that his report is ideologically driven and deeply problematic.


Share with friends...