Growing numbers of schools are reporting pupils to the government’s counter-terrorism scheme Prevent over suspected “incel” and other lesser-known extremist ideologies.
Some leaders are holding parents’ evenings about the emerging misogynistic ideology, while others are training staff to recognise its language of “Chads” and “Stacys”.
But there are calls for more support for staff and vulnerable boys, with one charity warning many teachers have never heard of the movement.
‘A new threat’
A government counter-extremism commission last year called incel subculture a “new threat”, alongside resurgent far-right ideas.
Its report described incels as an “overwhelmingly male online community”, with many members advocating violence against women. Five people were shot in Plymouth last year by a man who reportedly shared misogynistic views on incel forums.
Believers dub themselves “involuntarily celibate”, blaming women for not having relationships with them.
Speaking at a schools conference last week, a Department for Education official highlighted a “significant increase” in education staff reporting extremism concerns that were neither Islamist or far-right.
James Fisk said such cases, formally classed as “mixed, unstable or unclear ideologies”, included “inceldom”.
He highlighted schools’ duty to train staff in extremism, report concerns, implement IT filtering and build “resilience” to radicalisation. A government advice website says many referrals of young people to its Prevent counter-terrorism programme follow issues within schools.
Schools Week analysis of government figures reveals education referrals of such non-traditional ideologies leapt from 193 in 2016-17, to 1,071 in 2019-20.
It dipped to 721 last year as Covid knocked referrals from all settings, but the percentage from education kept rising – forming 60 per cent of all cases, up from 10 per cent in 2016-17.
‘Stacys and Chads’
The Skinners’ School recently held a parents’ information evening on “incel culture”, sexism and consent, with two other Kent schools.
Meanwhile Salford council began running “incel awareness courses” for school and other professionals in September, with dozens from across Greater Manchester attending each month. Cabinet member David Lancaster said it wanted to “get ahead” of an emerging global issue, rather than having particular local concerns.
He warned increased time online during Covid had heightened risks. Salford’s sessions advise neither condoning or shutting individuals down, rather “recognising they are victims of grooming, and need help”.
Jay Sterling, a science teacher in the Midlands, said she heard teenage boys cite incel ideas after an assembly about sexism. “We heard comments about men losing power, the wage gap being a myth, and key phrases like ‘Chads’, popular good-looking lads, and ‘Stacys’, who want to go out with them.”
Comments from incel believers online first alerted her to the movement.
Sterling, who has since moved school, said sexism workshops began because boys had made comments like “I’ll behave for male teachers”.
Owen Jones, director of education at the charity Hope Not Hate, which delivers anti-discrimination workshops, said he had seen boys in four schools surround female teachers who mentioned being feminists, saying “they must hate men”.
The charity avoids sending women to deliver sexism workshops because of safety fears.
His staff have seen specifically incel narratives “becoming more prevalent”. He warned that the ideology could also be a “gateway” into far-right extremism.
‘Teachers will have no idea’
Many teachers had “never heard” of incels, despite wider anti-sexism efforts in schools and higher Prevent referrals.
“You can be openly using incel language, and teachers will have no idea,” he said.
One academy head told Schools Week she was “not aware of the emerging issue”, suggesting more guidance would raise schools’ awareness.
Sterling said schools needed a “middle step” between handling issues alone and involving Prevent. A review of the controversial scheme is due out soon.
Jones said most boys expressing incel ideas “just need a sit down and a chat” with professionals, not necessarily counter-terrorism officers. The commission’s report said incel violence remained “rare”.
Teachers’ union NASUWT has also demanded more training in RSHE sessions about misogyny, investment in boys’ mental health and research on incels’ influence in schools.
A government spokesperson said it worked closely with schools, which must help prevent pupils being drawn into terrorism. She highlighted safeguarding duties and the “school-led” RSHE curriculum.