School and college staff in England are largely confident about implementing the Prevent duty, but some have concerns that it is increasing stigmatisation of Muslim students, according to new research by three universities.
The study found evidence that the Prevent duty, which is part of the Government’s current counter-terrorism strategy and was introduced two years ago, may be making Muslim students feel 'singled out' and damaging their willingness to share genuine concerns about extremism.
A minority of education professionals even argued that the duty might be counter-productive in preventing those who are vulnerable from being drawn into terrorism, owing to the perceived scrutiny of Muslim students stoking feelings of being marginalised by state and society.
The research also reported 'discomfort' and 'uncertainty' among school and college staff about what some saw as the Prevent duty's ill-conceived focus on 'British’ values.
There was concern the emphasis on the Britishness of these values can hinder the development of inclusive curriculum work promoting shared values.
The study by Coventry, Durham and Huddersfield universities involved in-depth interviews with 70 education professionals across 14 schools and colleges in West Yorkshire and London and eight local authority level Prevent practitioners.
It also included a national online survey of 225 school and college staff; and a series of feedback and discussion sessions with Muslim civil society organisations, school and college staff, educational trade unions, government departments and local authorities.
The study reported a number of findings likely to please those who are supportive of Prevent, including:
- no widespread direct resistance or opposition to the duty, with staff confidence bolstered by the feeling that it is an extension of their existing safeguarding responsibilities;
- little evidence that education professionals perceive the duty to have led to a 'chilling effect' on free speech in schools and colleges, with substantial efforts made by staff to pre-empt negative side-effects by reinvigorating initiatives such as debating clubs and promoting Prevent-related discussion in classrooms;
- several cases where schools and colleges are using the duty to strengthen work around racism, prejudice and inequality, often stemming from concerns around perceived far-right extremism in their area.
But the authors of the report say there remain difficult questions raised by their research, highlighting:
- some concerns over the effectiveness of the duty, centred around repeated observations that genuine cases of individuals being drawn into terrorism were unlikely to be picked up;
- one in three education staff who do not have a lead safeguarding role were unable to describe themselves as at least 'fairly confident' in carrying out the duty. There were also lower levels of confidence among younger or less experienced staff.
- a 'strong' current of concern, that the Prevent duty is making it more difficult to foster an inclusive environment for students from different backgrounds;
- significant concerns about the stigmatisation of Muslim students.
The study suggests that the widely-reported and sharp increase in referrals since the introduction of the Prevent duty is likely to be a result of both anxiety about missing a ‘genuine’ case, and an 'if in doubt speak to someone' culture.
Lead investigator Dr Joel Busher, from Coventry University's Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, said:
“Approaching Prevent as part of safeguarding appears largely to have been accepted by schools and colleges and has helped to foster fairly widespread confidence about the duty.
However, linking the duty to the promotion of ‘fundamental British values’ – and in particular the pressure on schools and colleges to emphasise the ‘Britishness’ of these values – is often seen as more problematic.
We heard about fears that this element is both hampering effective curriculum work around shared values and democratic citizenship, and creating uncertainty about the focus of the Prevent duty."
“Widespread and sometimes acute concerns about possible feelings of stigmatisation among Muslim students highlight an urgent need for systematic evaluation of how, if at all, the Prevent duty has impacted on student experiences.
It is likely to be some years before we are able to truly assess the impact of the Prevent duty and further research is needed.
In the meantime, we hope that this research can serve as a stimulus for constructive yet critical discussion about what the Prevent duty means for schools and colleges.”
For further press information, please contact Alison Martin, press officer, Coventry University, on 02477659752 or email firstname.lastname@example.org