Nicky Morgan is taking the fight against radicalisation into the classroom. On the Today programme, the Education Secretary outlined what her department is doing to support schools in tackling, what she called, this ‘very real threat’. The DfE will release new guidance for teachers today, offering ‘examples and support in how they might look for young people who are risk at radicalisation – perhaps changes of behaviour or things they might say’. But Morgan admitted there is a unclear line between what constitutes a ‘healthy debate’ and upholding ‘British values’:
‘Schools should be a safe space for young people to explore all sorts of ideas, but we have since last year been very clear that schools should also be teaching British values, those are the things we all hold dear. If we don’t talk about them, then the vacuum gets filled’.
Morgan did offer one example of where this new guidance might inform a teacher’s approach. She pointed out that ISIL is ‘extremely intolerant of homosexuality’ and so comments from a pupil supporting this position could be a cause for concern:
‘It could trigger a thought. It would very much depend on the context on which it would be discussed. Teachers would discuss, as they do already about children they are concerned who are at risk at perhaps being drawn into a gang or being exploited or being neglected at home.’
If teachers are concerned by the behaviour of a student, the DfE is advising them to raise it with department heads immediately or the head of the school. If it is classified as an emergency, Morgan said it could even be raised with the police — although she was quick to point out that someone who says ‘I don’t like gay people’ isn’t going to be reported to the police.
Although this might sound a little wishy washy, it is an important part of the government’s Prevent strategy to tackle radicalisation at a grassroots level. The threat from a home-grown terror attack is one the security services have been consistently worried about and schools in particular remain an area of concern.
This new guidance isn’t a specific response to what has happened in the last month but it has particular resonance in the light of recent events. All areas of the government will be under growing pressure from No.10 to show they are doing everything necessary in the fight against extremism.