SHAFAQNA – The government has come under fire for a circular issued to schools suggesting that they ignore advice on how to implement the controversial Prevent anti-terrorism policy.
IHRC wrote to 18,000 schools in England and Wales warning them about the misuse of Prevent and suggesting ways to ensure it was applied in a way that didn’t target Muslims and safeguarded the interests of schoolchildren.
The correspondence highlighted that since the implementation of PREVENT became compulsory on schools in July 2015, many disturbing cases have emerged of children being reported to PREVENT officers for expressing views that teachers consider ‘extremist’. Typically students are targeted for expressing their opinions on current affairs (which in most cases seems to be the result of misinterpretation by teachers of normal behavior by young children), they are interviewed by PREVENT (or police) officers without a parent or guardian present, and parents/guardians are not informed about the referral nor are they present during the interview.
IHRC recommended that staff consulted with parents in developing and implementing an appropriate Prevent policy that did not focus on Muslims and ensured that no pupil referrals were made without discussion with the child’s parents. The policy must also ensure that parents or a suitable adult be present when a pupil is being interviewed.
The government has since written to schools saying the IHRC’s email was inaccurate and misleading without detailing how.
That response has prompted IHRC to write to the the Minister for Education Nicky Morgan criticising her department for failing to deal with the advice in a constructive manner and trying to dismiss it out of hand.
In its letter IHRC reminds the government that a disproportionate number of young Muslim students have been subjected to referrals under Prevent, leading to great emotional distress, and also that it is all too common for schools not to inform parents/guardians of such referrals.
“Such underhand approaches have ensured Prevent’s negative perception within Muslim communities,” it says. “This is not an accident; policy guidelines reveal a clear bias in the framing of ‘extremism’ as a Muslim problem.”
IHRC has consistently called for Prevent to be repealed on the grounds that it is counter-productive. We have been heavily critical of its expansion to schools as a statutory duty. It is ethically reprehensible to force teachers and other staff in the education sector to act as informants at the risk of losing their jobs, fracturing the relationship between educator and student.
However, recognising that Muslim parents and children have to deal with the impact of PREVENT in their everyday lives, IHRC has sought to make Prevent a less hostile process by encouraging schools to hear the concerns of those they are serving. For the government to attempt to undermine that process is extremely disappointing.
IHRC chair Massoud Shadjareh said: “I am astonished that despite the consensus of the devestating impact of PREVENT on Muslim families and children, the government not only continues its denial but prevents any attempt to soften the impact of it.”