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Home > Reviews > The Prevent Duty in Education: Impact, Enactment and Implications

The Prevent Duty in Education: Impact, Enactment and Implications

Author Editors: Joel Busher, Lee Jerome

ISBN No 9783030455583

Review date 13/08/2022

No of pages 180

Publisher Palgrave

Publisher URL

Year of publication 30/07/2020


Our Review


£ Freely downloadable

Under the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, the education sector in Britain must pay ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. As the editors of a collection of essays put it, this 'prompted extensive policy, academic and public debate'. Earnest university teachers deplored 'The Prevent Duty' making them state snoopers, and that dissent and free speech were threatened.

On the other hand, numerous terrorists and plotters have British school and university connections; most obviously, three girls from a Bethnal Green, east London secondary school travelled to Syria in 2015. Unis if anything are taking their safeguarding and welfare duties ever more seriously - which has included security departments having more of a pastoral role, besides locking and unlocking classroom doors; and the Prevent Duty to report those seemingly vulnerable to the authorities has been widened since, to cover doctors for instance.

As the editors add, we still have a limited understanding of how this imposed from the top ‘Prevent Duty’ is playing out on the ground; in schools, colleges and indeed nurseries. What do staff or children and young people (the median age of those referred to Channel from the education sector in 2018-19 was 14) make of it, if anything? Hence the essays published by Palgrave and available as a free download, titled The Prevent Duty in Education: Impact, Enactment and Implications.

According to government statistics, that legal Duty did lead to 'a sharp increase in the number of referrals being made to Prevent', which run into the thousands a year, many going into Channel, the government’s anti-radicalisation mentoring scheme. As Huddersfield academic Paul Thomas points out right away, Prevent dates from 2006. As James Lewis at Lancaster points out, while at primary school children are undeniably children, at college students have many of the legal rights of adults.

While the UK academic authors of the chapters have various background, many are scholars of education, which means that they are looking at Prevent from a teaching-schooling rather than a crime and security point of view, asking for example if Prevent is part of a trend to turn teachers and lecturers into low-level social workers, looking to protect youths from harms (one being radicalisation) rather than educators.

To the editors' credit, the chapters are as up to date as publishing deadlines allow, quoting events as recent as 2019, for example the fact that numbers of people now receiving actual Channel mentoring support for right-wing extremism are very similar to those from ISIS-inspired extremism, as noted by Paul Thomas. A chapter by Birmingham-based researchers about the West Midlands in particular indeed found that 'educators and those responsible for training have started to pay more attention to right-wing extremism'. That does raise the controversial question of what is extremism - animal rights activism? Extinction Rebellion?

As the book sets out, staff are having to make judgements - if they don't refer someone, are they missing signs of radicalisation? If they do, might they be over-reacting? As one researcher was told, if a half-Pakistani student begins to come to school wearing a headscarf, has she 'been radicalised somehow' and at risk; or is she, rather, 'exploring that part of her culture'? Is Prevent making staff and students alike anxious, and better-safe-than-sorry; or is this just 'a wider professional culture of safeguarding' and duty of care (page 110)?

The collection does well to attend to 'voices', to what those in schools and colleges are actually saying about 'messy reality' (page 167). The work concludes by noting that while a policy can take surprising and complex turns in practice, the Prevent duty has rapidly become part of the job, teaching about terrorism and extremism is one more thing to do.

As the authors put it:

'Teachers and other professionals are well-placed as trusted adults to play a role in building this level of critical understanding and to engage children and young people in various forms of values education, but it seems that policy could do more to empower them to undertake this fundamental educational role.' (page 167)

The final chapter closes by acknowledging that the Prevent policy has evolved; and suggesting 'some sort of equality impact review'; and that there are 'some pragmatic steps that should be taken to avoid or minimise unintended harm'. The