Since 1 July 2015, schools in England have a legal duty to prevent pupils from becoming radicalised. The Department for Education recommends using the citizenship curriculum.
The Prevent Duty is part of the UK Government's Prevent strategy for tackling extremism (both violent and non-violent) and for curbing potential terrorism.
The Prevent Duty guidance for schools recommends building pupils’ resilience to radicalisation by:
- providing a safe environment for debating controversial issues
- helping them to understand how they can influence and participate in decision-making.
In secondary schools, the Department for Education recommends using the citizenship curriculum for this.
The Prevent Duty guidance for schools and childcare providers also refers to SMSC and PSHE, but gives particular attention to citizenship:
'Citizenship helps to provide pupils with the knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society'.
'It should equip pupils to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, to debate, and to make reasoned arguments.'
'In Citizenship,' the guidance continues, 'pupils learn about democracy, government and how laws are made and upheld.
'Pupils are also taught about the diverse national, regional, religious and ethnic identities in the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding.'
Some teachers are worried that the Prevent Duty will scare schools into stifling debate, while others fear that anti-radicalisation strategies will nurture docile and uninquisitive citizens without the capacity to weigh ideas.
However, the Government's guidance takes pains to reassure us that this new duty 'is not intended to stop pupils debating controversial issues'.
'On the contrary,' it says, 'schools should provide a safe space in which children, young people and staff can understand the risks associated with terrorism and develop the knowledge and skills to be able to challenge extremist arguments.'Even so, it is understandable that some teachers are wary of exploring controversial issues, such as extremism, in class. But there are resources to help them do so with confidence.
In 2015, we published Talking about values in the classroom, which introduced teachers to a method of working that developed students' skills of thinking and talking about moral issues.
And, a few years ago, we produced guidance for schools on dealing with the British National Party and other radical groups and, earlier, on teaching controversial issues. Although some of the references are of their time, the general principles still hold.
Also see doingSMSC, our website that explains SMSC (spiritual, moral, social and cultural development).