Schools’ compliance with the Prevent counter-extremism duty should be monitored by an “independent oversight function”, and staff need improved training to meet it, a government-commissioned review has found.
The review by William Shawcross warned of “ambiguity” over how schools’ compliance with the duty is monitored. Some frontline school staff also need “strengthened training on the causes of radicalisation and the ideological nature of terrorism”, it found.
Introduced in 2015, Prevent requires teachers to identify pupils at risk of radicalisation and report incidents they believe are linked to extremism or terrorism.
Education settings are the most common source of referrals to the programme, accounting for 36 per cent, or 2,305 referrals in the year to March 31 2022.
Although it found the duty was “well-embedded” in schools, the Shawcross review today warned that schools, further education and childcare providers are “not formally monitored for compliance with the duty”.
DfE and Ofsted ‘largely reactive’
Checking compliance currently “falls under the auspices of Ofsted and the DfE”, which “largely take a reactive approach with issues alerted to them”.
Shawcross said he considered “this ambiguity a potential risk for effective Prevent delivery”, adding that an independent oversight function would “strengthen compliance”.
In its formal recommendations, the report proposed the creation of a new standards and compliance unit answerable to ministers on the Prevent oversight board.
The purpose of the unit “should be to process and investigate complaints from
Prevent practitioners and the wider public”, it said.
Home secretary Suella Braverman has accepted Shawcross’s recommendations in full, and the Home Office said the new unit would “provide a clear and accessible route for the public and practitioners to raise concerns about Prevent activity where it may have fallen short of its standards”.
It is not clear, however, if the new unit will take on the role of monitoring school compliance, or if this will remain with Ofsted and the DfE.
Prevent duty ‘well-embedded’ in schools
Overall, the report found the duty was well embedded and broadly well understood in the schools sector.
However, while “working relationships” between schools and Prevent were also praised, it warned some frontline education staff lacked the proper training.
For example, the review said the DfE’s analysis of schoolchildren travelling or attempting to travel to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State stated that in the majority of cases there was “no prior indication of extremism”.
But Shawcross said he was “concerned” that not all practitioners were “sufficiently adept” at recognising how ideological drivers of terrorism present in young people, and were missing signs of “radicalisation risk”.
In its formal recommendations, the review said the government should ensure Prevent training “upholds a consistent and proportionate threshold across ideological threats and avoids using double standards”.
Training for Prevent and public sector staff subject to the duty should also “include clear guidance on how and when to make appropriate referral decisions”.
It must also “clearly specify new Prevent thresholds and the requirement to ensure referrals have an identifiable ideological element and terrorism risk”.
The Home Office said Prevent would “overhaul its training and guidance for all staff, and introduce a security threat check, to ensure all decision-making is aligned with the current threat”.