An 11-year-old pupil was referred to the government’s counter-extremism Prevent programme after a teacher mistook the word “alms” for “arms” during a discussion.
The Guardian reports that the boy’s teacher asked what pupils would do if they had a lot of money. According to a legal challenge against the school by the boy’s parents, he said he would “give alms to the oppressed.” The teacher interpreted this as “give arms to the oppressed” and made the Prevent referral.
When police received the referral they said there was no substance to it, no sign of radicalisation, extremist views or any threat to national security and closed the case.
But the boy’s parents are taking legal action against the school, accusing it of applying a stereotype about his racial and religious background. They are calling for a written apology from the school, the payment of damages and the expunging of the Prevent referral from the boy’s record.
The boy’s parents say they are distraught as a result of the Prevent referral. And they are concerned that the referral will stay on their son’s file and the information will be passed on to the school the boy is due to attend in September.
Dr Layla Aitlhadj, the director of Prevent Watch, told 5Pillars: “This case exemplifies how the lens with which the teacher was viewing her student was one of suspicion rather than one of care. Not only did she assume that the child had said ‘arms’ instead of ‘alms’ despite his well known altruistic attitude and intelligence but she also made special note of how when he made this statement in front of the class he showed ‘no self-consciousness.’ She is in this moment and through this lens looking at this child as if he is some kind of cold blooded murderer rather than an 11 year old child.
“So it leaves many questions to which we believe the answers are obvious – what allowed for this suspicious lens to be cast? Would the same immediate referral be made had the child been non-Muslim?
“The National Union of Teachers and many teachers up and down the country have raised their concerns about the suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom that has been created by Prevent. It is also well known that Prevent was designed to target the Muslim community and therefore at its very core it is inherently Islamophobic so we cannot be surprised when such a duty reinforces peoples bias/prejudice.”
Meanwhile, the headteacher of the boy’s primary school told The Guardian: “It would not be appropriate for me to comment publicly on individual children, but as a school, we do everything we can to keep all our pupils safe and well. We have a moral and legal responsibility to seek specialist advice from many different professionals as required.”