Tackle extremism, but not at the expense of freedom of speech, say unions

Government strategies to combat radicalisation risk curtailing freedom of speech in schools, education unions have warned.

In a motion proposed by teachers’ union the NASUWT at the TUC Congress, it was argued that the government’s anti-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, could stymie open discussion on the subject in the safe environment of a classroom.

The NASUWT highlighted the importance of education in the fight against bigotry, hatred and extremism around the world.

Members supported the motion, which included plans to promote open discussion and exploration of views within an anti-racist and anti-Islamophobic approach while closely monitoring the impact of far-Right extremism in schools and colleges.

The motion, which was seconded by the NUT, was passed at the Congress in Brighton yesterday.

Kathy Wallis, senior vice-president of the NASUWT, who led the motion, said: “We are progressive trade unionists committed to education, human rights and service to our communities, with a proud history at home and abroad of fighting the forces of extremism.

“But there are many outside forces seeking to undo the progress we have made, to deprive people of their rights and to impose false and destructive ideologies on to others.

“While we must be unstinting in the face of extremism, we must also stand firm against those governments whose response is to place greater restrictions on our human rights, not least freedom of association, of speech and of thought, conscience and religion.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All schools must actively promote the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. This is at the heart of a school’s responsibility to prepare pupils for life in modern Britain.

“School staff should use their professional judgement in identifying children who might be at risk of radicalisation in all its forms and act proportionately. Good schools already do this and there is guidance available for them to use.

“This doesn’t and shouldn’t stop schools from discussing controversial issues – instead it will give pupils a safe space to develop the knowledge to challenge extremist beliefs and ideologies.”

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