Recently, Prevent Watch spoke about Prevent to parents who had gathered for something that may seem unrelated to counter-extremism: the changes in the curriculum with regards to Relationships and Sex Education (RSE).
It was a rainy Saturday afternoon, but the event was well attended by committed and concerned parents.
When surveyed on why they did not want to participate in RSE discussions, 3.4% of parents said it was because of Prevent, the government’s counter-extremism policy, adding to the growing body of evidence that proves the UK government’s counter-extremism policy has a self-censoring effect on education.
Concerns about how RSE subjects could draw Prevent
Despite the disturbing nature of their concern – the presence of a counter-terrorism policy in the educational context – I found this statistic reassuringly low, and I was glad that there was not a fear of something that Prevent Watch has not seen cases of on the ground: Prevent referrals related to RSE.
However, as one parent mentioned to me, what I define as a Prevent referral “unrelated” to RSE, was in fact a referral linked to subjects that would make up RSE.
This was the case of a child who was referred to Prevent for making an alleged “homophobic comment”.
It was alleged by his peers that he had made threats against homosexuals, however the child said he had simply stated that he did “not like homosexuality; it is against my religion”. This led to an interrogation by counter-extremism and policy.
Although I claimed that the referral was not RSE-related, a parent rightly pointed out that the child’s religious views about homosexuality, were a sticking point for the Prevent officer, who interrogated the child for half an hour.
Had a view like this been aired in RSE classes, parents expressed concern that this almost certainly would have led to a Prevent referral.
Prevent and children’s right to religious expression
We have not had RSE-specific referrals come through to Prevent Watch, but this doesn’t mean they don’t exist. There may well be many RSE-specific and RSE-related referrals of which we are not aware.
The Home Office does not reveal the specific reasons why a child is referred to Prevent, and we only have access to the basic statistics related to demographics and age, and even then with caveats; for example, 15 to 21 year olds are given as one age group, when we know that a child is an individual under 18.
The opaque nature of Prevent related-statistics is a subject on its own.
It was interesting that most of the questions that Saturday evening were directed at Prevent Watch, despite sharing a panel with a number of other experts. This was not due to any notions of Prevent Watch’s popularity, but due to the genuine fears of parents and feelings of self censorship related to RSE and Prevent.
One parent asked about how worried they should be about their confident articulate and proudly Muslim child, while another asked how a school could take more responsibility for regulating the presence of a Prevent officer at the school, and the Prevent “interview” sessions themselves.
The fears of parents are many and enough in the normal journey of raising children today. Surely their education should be a source of relief rather than of fear.
Bullying policy and teachers’ common sense
As part of the People’s Review of Prevent we published earlier this year as an alternative to the three-year-delayed Shawcross review for government, we raise an important point about the securitisation of spaces such as schools.
We emphasise the importance of professionals such as teachers using their professional and moral judgements rather than resorting to Prevent as a default, securitising matters that would be better dealt with as ‘teachable moments’ at school.
I often use the education sector and teachers as examples when discussing Prevent because referrals from the education sector make up the largest proportion of Prevent referrals not only according to the Home Office statistics, but also in the 600+ cases that we have supported as Prevent Watch.
It is comforting that there are schools that have certainly exercised their own professional and moral judgements despite the pressure of Prevent being a legal duty.