Our recent webinar on the Prevent strategy broke down what students, staff and parents can expect this academic year after the Home Office accepted all of Shawcross’s recommendations.
This academic year, staff will likely experience increased management and control of Prevent by the Home Office with direct control by the CCE, which has been moved away from its “independent advisory” role to being a political directorate within Home Office.
It is concerning for many that the CCE has a political mandate to manage and develop new training on Prevent’s implementation, and there is no independent oversight of the CCE. Despite being part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy Contest, Prevent is not under regulation by the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation.
According to the Home Secretary, new Standards and Compliance Unit will be functional in early 2024 to “process complaints from both the public and practitioners and take instruction from ministers to conduct investigations and publish findings” – but this unit will be under the directive of the CCE, and a “Prevent oversight board”, chaired by the Security Minister.
New developments of Prevent should be seen in the background of this central, securitised political control, and what appears to be an emerging intent of “governing” Muslims with no oversight, through the separate and entirely political Prevent architecture, with no truly independent oversight at all.
New categories of risk with low-risk being a catch-all
We also know there are new categories of risk – for example, an individual can be deemed to be low-risk, medium risk, and high risk, and the CCE emphasises that a young person can move from low-risk to high-risk “very quickly”, implying that the former should be monitored, even if no Prevent referral would be warranted.
Some of the low-risk behaviours include criticising government policies, expressing an interest in a new religion or politics, to support causes, and to express conservative or traditional religious values.
We believe this will place a huge and unnecessary amount of scrutiny on young people, particularly students at University and pupils in sixth form colleges and FE – since these are all behaviours associated with growing into adulthood.
It means that almost any young person who becomes involved in politics is potentially an extremist, even when getting involved in political action is part of democratic citizenship.
More record-keeping with pressure to comply
In this new arrangement, we expect there will be a greater emphasis on record-keeping, but this is not for the purpose of accountability, or reducing harms, but for ensuring compliance.
The CCE will run a complaints system, as mentioned above, but it will not record harms to children and students; rather the complaints mechanism is there to monitor compliance with Prevent within institutions – that is, to protect whistleblowers who may complain to the CCE about non-compliance.
Under known Islamophobe and right-wing neo-con Robin Zimcox, it is well known that the CCE is hardly independent and therefore – like the Shawcross Review – will certainly not guarantee ”independent oversight”
When the emphasis is on recording even “low-risk” behaviours – with data collection being a key concern of the United Nations in connection with Prevent since we know this data will be shared with other agencies – teachers should raise their concerns.
Prevent’s footprint in student and staff agreements
Since universities have been seen to have a lower number of Prevent referrals, we expect more scrutiny of university political action, especially when it comes to events. This may materialise at first instance in the redrafting of student and staff agreements.
Pushing back against Prevent may involve staff and students ensuring that democratic activism is protected by their institution’s commitment to ensuring free speech for all groups, but especially minority groups, as per the new Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act.
This should come with a strong awareness that free speech protections are increasingly being used to protect extreme right-wing speech, as we can see from government attempts to redefine and shift the political narrative to mainstream these views.
This includes Braverman’s statement that Douglas Murray’s views – which includes the clash of civilisation thesis and replacement theory – are “decent”, and Rafael Pantucci’s interview on BBC4 attempting to mainstream replacement theory.
The new Prevent strategy: key takeaways
Broadly, staff and students should expect changes in line with the Home Secretary’s recent statement that “Prevent is a security service, not a social service”. This includes:
- even more referrals of Muslims;
- increased scrutiny of politically active students who dissent;
- renewed training that will place less emphasis on the right-wing and racism;
- more emphasis on “Islamism”which is vaguely understood as “political Islam” – Muslims who voice a political opinion or those involved in “political activity”
- the fear of being downgraded on safeguarding by educators means they will likely go over and above what is required, even though Prevent undermines safeguarding; and
- more interference with events, freedom of religion and speech at universities
- The People’s Review of Prevent and A Response to the Shawcross Review (Reports, 2022 & 2023)
- How the Prevent strategy will target a child, but ignore the cause (Expert View, 2023)
- The Justice Gap: Children’s rights and counter-extremism (News, 2023)