New software allowing teachers to spy on pupils browsing extremist websites or searching for terrorism-related terms while at school could “hinder the debate challenging radicalisation”.
The first keyword glossary for teachers, launched yesterday, aims to prevent the radicalisation of pupils online.
The software alerts teachers when any terms from a “radicalisation library” are used.
But Zafar Ali, chairman of governors at IQRA Slough Islamic Primary School, said: “I’ve always said to combat radicalisation there must be an open and honest debate. This mustn’t stop pupils doing this by inhabiting their learning.”
IQRA became one of the first Muslim schools to host a conference to combat radicalisation last year.
And Mr Ali added: “The software must not pick up innocent terminology and label children. It must be precise and not delve into children who are searching for knowledge to understand radicalisation, that’s a big step away from being radicalised.”
Speaking earlier this week, Louise Richardson – the new head of Oxford University – said it was “imperative we have a place where radical ideas can be expressed and challenged”.
But Sally-Ann Griffiths, e-safety development manager at Impero, which developed the software, told Schools Week: “It is not about criminalising children – it is about helping schools spot the early warning signs so that risk in relation to an individual can be assessed and measured, and counter narratives and support can be put in place to help educate children before they potentially become victims of radicalisation.”
She added: “The system may help teachers confirm identification of vulnerable children, or act as an early warning system to help identify children that may be at risk in future.
“It also provides evidence for teachers and child protection officers to use in order to intervene and support a child in a timely and appropriate manor.”
The new software, developed in partnership with counter-extremism thinktank the Quilliam Foundation, is now being piloted in schools. It will be available to all schools from the start of the autumn term.
Jonathan Russell, Quilliam Foundation’s political liaison officer (pictured), said: “The internet has made it easy for young people to access extreme or radical material. While measures such as the UK government’s Prevent Strategy already existed, it’s now clear that more needs to be done to counter radicalisation early on.
“Protecting young people from the dangers of radicalisation requires positive online counter-extremism, and empowering teachers with technology like Impero’s keyword library is an important part of this process.”
The software is an update to Impero’s Education Pro network monitoring software, which is used by 40 per cent of secondary schools to detect safeguarding concerns such as sexting, grooming and suicide.
The Counter Terrorism and Security Act, which became law in February, put a legal duty on schools to prevent youngsters from being drawn to terrorism.
Schools now have a responsibility to work to prevent this, as well as challenge extremist ideas shared by terrorist groups.
This was highlighted when three schools girls from Bethnal Green Academy, in London, travelled to Syria. It led to education secretary Nicky Morgan ordering a review of schools with pupils who had travelled to the country.
How does the new software work?
It looks for key words and phrases typed on to school IT equipment that “give cause for concern”. Terms include “yodo”, a phrase apparently used by Jihadist sympathisers meaning “you only die once”.
When a term is detected it triggers a screenshot which captures the student’s screen, information about who was logged in and at what time it happened.
Impero says the screenshot means teachers can quickly put the incident in context.
Each term comes with a severity rating, as well as a full explanation in layman’s terms as to what the phrases mean.
Schools can also add their own terms to the glossary and tweak severity ratings.