5Pillars has been told that two schools in the UK have been trying to train Muslim pupils to effectively spy on each other.
Prevent Watch, which monitors the government’s controversial counter-extremism programme, told 5Pillars that the schools, one in Birmingham and one in Slough, have been training, or attempting to train, their pupils in the Prevent strategy.
All schools are required to deliver the Prevent duty and “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” However, it has been assumed until now that teachers are responsible for delivering Prevent and this is the first time that we have heard of pupils themselves being trained to deliver the strategy.
5Pillars spoke to a 17 year old pupil at Joseph Chamberlain Sixth Form College in Birmingham, which has an overwhelming majority Muslim intake. The student told us that around a month ago his whole year group had been trained to look out for the “signs of radicalisation and extremism” among his peers.
The student said: “It was an online training course with a quiz at end. If this person is acting like this what should you do etc? But my parents were not informed about this and neither was I. The teacher just said we had to do it, we couldn’t opt out and we weren’t allowed to leave the room until it was completed.
“It felt weird, it was just thrust on us and it wasn’t necessary. The others didn’t want to do it and thought it was just another boring form time activity. They didn’t realise that it was related to Prevent because they didn’t realise the nature of the policy. But I felt uncomfortable because I do know that Prevent is a racist policy.”
5Pillars also spoke to the pupil’s father and another relative who both expressed concern that they were not notified by the school until after the training had taken place.
“I was disgusted to be honest,” said one relative. “You are putting the seeds of suspicions and doubt of your fellow brother and sisters which is antithetical to Islam. It’s effectively getting the pupils to spy on each other.”
Another school in Slough also attempted to enlist pupils to train in Prevent, according to Prevent Watch, but did not actually deliver the training after teachers were challenged by pupils.
A spokesperson at PreventWatch told 5Pillars: “We at Prevent Watch have supported over 500 cases where the majority are children being referred, but this is the first time we have seen children being asked to train in Prevent. This is a dangerous precedent that has no grounding in legislation. We urge more parents to come forward and challenge teachers and schools in this behaviour.”
Afzar Shafi, from advocacy group CAGE which recently released a report offering an alternative to Prevent, told us that this development is very concerning. He said: “This is breeding a culture of suspicion, mistrust and fear in a school environment where an atmosphere of care is needed.”
5Pillars contacted both the Home Office (which is responsible for Prevent) and Joseph Chamberlain College for comment but neither replied to our enquiries.
However, Prevent coordinator William Baldet told us on Twitter that schools training to implement Prevent “would be unlikely” so he would need to see the resources. But he added that it is “not unusual for secondary schools to teach about different harms, knife crimes, gangs, violence, terrorism, drugs etc. and our responses to them. Schools have autonomy on how they do that.”
The Prevent strategy is viewed with huge suspicion among the Muslim community and has been denounced by several Muslim organisations, as well as non-Muslim human rights groups, activists and politicians. Critics say it disproportionately targets Muslims and has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has even pledged to make it Labour policy to scrap it if she becomes leader.
On the other hand, the government insists it is about safeguarding, preventing people from being drawn in terrorism and keeping the country safe.