Exclusive: School anti-terror referrals surge amid ‘climate of fear’

Unions warn ‘false allegations’ are damaging teacher-pupil relationships

The number of people referred by education institutions to Prevent – the government’s controversial anti-terror programme – has exceeded the number of tip-offs from the police for the first time, TES can reveal.

News of the surge, which coincided with a new legal duty on schools to “prevent young people from being drawn into terrorism”, comes as teachers are expected to call for the requirement to be scrapped.

Unions claim that a lack of adequate training for “scared” teachers worried about Ofsted checks, has triggered many of the Prevent referrals, leading to “false allegations” and overreactions in schools.

NUT delegates gathering in Brighton for the teaching union’s annual conference this weekend are likely to back a motion from its executive demanding the withdrawal of Prevent from schools.

Kevin Courtney, NUT deputy general secretary, said: “People feel under pressure and feel they have to behave in ways that aren’t necessarily required.”

Between April and December 2015, the number of Prevent referrals from the police was significantly higher than those from education and all other public “statutory partners” put together, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) figures indicate.

But within that period, the picture changed dramatically after the legal anti-terrorism requirement was placed on schools in July. The NPCC told TES that between October and December the number of Prevent referrals from education alone was, for the first time, greater than those from the police.

Nansi Ellis, assistant general secretary of the ATL teaching union, believes that a lack of adequate training in schools has fuelled a “spate” of Prevent referrals.

“Some teachers are scared,” she said. “People are worried about what Ofsted is looking for. Are they looking for more referrals because of the duty, or fewer referrals because you are actually addressing these things?”

Hank Roberts, a member of all three classroom unions, believes teachers should go through the school’s normal safeguarding procedure, rather than reporting any incidents directly to Prevent, to “filter out the nonsense” and reduce “false allegations” that have “no basis”. He will call for the ATL to take a position of non-cooperation with Prevent in a motion at the union’s conference later in the Easter break.

But the pressure on teachers to be vigilant over the risk of extremism is likely to increase in the wake of the terrorist bombings in Brussels on Tuesday.

A government spokesperson said: “We make no apology for making sure that measures are in place to protect children and young people from the risks of extremism and radicalisation.

“The Prevent duty is entirely consistent with schools’ existing responsibilities, and good schools will already have been safeguarding children from extremism and promoting fundamental British values long before the duty came into force.”

Ofsted said it had “no expectations” of how many Prevent referrals a school made, as that number would not reveal whether a school had been successful in “keeping children safe from the dangers of extremism”, which was what inspectors needed to know.

This is an edited version of an article in the 25 March edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week’s TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here

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