France is exploring the UK government’s controversial Prevent strategy as it tries to combat the radicalisation of its young people in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks in the country.
The French education minister told TES that she had examined the approach taken by Britain, which has come under fire amid fears it could be discriminating against the Muslim community.
As of last year, teachers in the UK have joined the front line in the government’s battle against extremism, with all school staff being asked to look out for signs of radicalisation.
The move has led to concern among the profession that it could damage the relationships between teachers and some of their most vulnerable students, while there are also worries about the lack of training on offer to staff to meet the new requirements.
Despite this, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is herself a first-generation Moroccan immigrant to France, said Prevent had steered some of her own country’s thinking on the subject.
“I am lucky that I am not only the minister for education but also the minister for higher education and research, which means I have numerous contacts with French researchers who have been looking attentively at the Prevent programme in Britain,” Ms Vallaud-Belkacem said.
“Therefore, I know it quite well and I can see how much we can learn from it either to follow what has been good about it or the difficulties you might have had.”
France has stepped up its efforts to tackle radicalisation and extremism after a series of terrorist attacks in recent years, the most recent being in Paris where scores were killed at the Bataclan music venue in November.
The response from France has been to train school staff to teach the “values of the Republic”, in a move similar to the mandatory teaching of British values introduced in the UK.
Every pupil is also given 300 hours of education in ethics, morals and citizenship between the ages of 6 and 18, during which values and “what it means to be a good citizen” are discussed.
Ms Vallaud-Belkacem added: “Schools and heads of schools have to be able to detect the early signs, the precursor signs of radicalisation in their pupils. After all, all young people go through school so it is a very important place. And so heads of school should know their pupils quite well. Handbooks have been made and given to heads to help them detect those signs and when they do they are given to the police and to specialised social services.”
Earlier this month, TES reported that French schools were drafting in volunteers (article free to subscribers), from journalists to retired judges, to speak to pupils about the importance and meaning of secularism.