The Prevent Duty in Education

As the launch of CARR’s new Counter-Extremism Research Unit comes ever closer, I am pleased to use this space to announce one of our upcoming events that launches the first edited volume to be published on the enactment of the Prevent Duty in education settings. Edited by Dr Joel Busher and Dr Lee Jerome, the volume brings together a number of scholars whose research has sought to offer empirical insights into how the the UK’s pillar counter-terrorism approach is being experienced within the everyday spaces of education.

The Prevent Duty, introduced in 2015, is a central tenet of UK counter-terrorism policy. It policy is a legal requirement for public sector workers to show ‘due regard’ to the need to refer those vulnerable to potential engagement with terrorism or extremism to Channel, a multi-agency safeguarding hub which assesses and supports vulnerabilities which it says may, without intervention, lead to radicalisation. It, therefore, requires public and non-specialist actors to engage in the extra-ordinary spaces of counter-terrorism within their everyday roles. The education sector has found itself to be a key player within this process, seeing teachers responsible for identifying and referring vulnerable students to Channel whilst also promoting British values, those seen to be the antithesis to extremist and terrorist threat. Statistics have demonstrated that, year upon year, the education sector has been responsible for over a third of these referrals going into multi-agency safeguarding hubs for consideration over potential radicalisation. Whilst a plethora of literature has engaged with the high-level policy and theoretical examinations of the duty, considering the perceived outcomes of securitising teachers and their students, only a handful of studies have looked at how this actually plays out ‘on the ground’. The Prevent Duty in Education, an open-access contributory volume just published, brings together a host of scholars at the forefront of examining these very spaces, offering a comprehensive insight into the duty throughout the different levels of the education sector.

‘Britains Prevent Strategy: Always Changing, Always the same?’ is the first chapter following the introduction which introduces the Prevent duty, situating its turbulent past and the concerns which surround the application of a counter-terrorism measure within educational settings. The volume then offers an insight into some of the first stories to have been collected around initial implementation which emerged in 2017 in chapter three ‘The Introduction of the Prevent Duty to Schools and Colleges: Stories of Continuity and Change’, providing a sound context upon which the following chapters of the volume base the starting point for their findings. A critical insight into student perspectives on the duty is then provided in chapter four before the chapters offer an in-depth interrogation of the duty at the levels of early years, primary, secondary and my own contribution – further education in chapters five, six, seven and eight respectively. Chapters four through to eight therefore reveal how the framing of the Prevent duty as a safeguarding mechanism has enabled the policy to become embedded and accepted across the different sectors of education. They also demonstrate, however, a number of moments where such acceptance becomes disrupted. Chapter five, for example, reveals how surveillance of the child’s family was key to determining vulnerability in early years, whilst chapters seven and eight saw teachers focused on the presence of signs within the child’s behaviour. Chapter four reveals how students desire the space to discuss issues of terrorism and extremism whilst the findings in chapter eight challenges the scope for this to be done. For chapters four through to eight, findings reveal how teachers showed subtle forms of resistance particularly in relation to British values where the agenda became “our” or “institutional” values, rather than British ones, for fear of stigmatising or alienating those deemed “non-British”. Yet, the same chapters also offered a challenge to the claims explored in chapters one and two around a potential “chilling effect” on educational freedoms as a result of the duty. In this latter case, teachers across the chapters were fairly confident in their abilities to mitigate such risks.

The summarising chapter, ‘Conclusion’, brings together these findings to argue that the Prevent duty does not just become implemented, but enacted. In other words, the duty is not just a piece of legislation or an institutional policy, but an agenda which becomes lived in the everyday experiences of staff and students and their pedagogical processes. It draws upon the contributions within the volume to reveal how the duty has become ‘normalised’ and considered a ‘non-exceptional’ practice through its positioning as a safeguarding practice and as a continuation of ‘existing professional practices and organisational cultures’. It also draws out the key impacts and implications which arise at the varying points of enactment across the chapters, such as concerns of stigmatisation around the inclusion of “British” Values as I have problematised before; the presence and negotiations of a wider context of anti-Muslim prejudice; and, the perceived limitations around the kind of education students want on extremism and terrorism.

As the summarising chapter reveals, the volume reveals a picture of ‘ambivalence: seemingly defying easy summarisation’. In doing so, it offers a number of significant lessons for both policy makers and practitioners, educationalists and their students, and academics and community and voluntary sector organisations who are involved in not only the Prevent duty, but issues of counter-terrorism and extremism, educational practice, community relations and inequalities, amongst a whole host of other related concerns.

The soon-to-be launched Counter-Extremism Research Unit at the Centre for Analysis on the Radical Right will be hosting a launch event for the book in September 2020. The event will offer an opportunity for the contributing authors to share the findings of their research which informed the chapters of the volume, to discuss the processes behind bringing together these individual projects, and to answer any questions on the claims they put forward. You can register your interest for the event here.

Natalie James is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and Doctoral candidate in School of Politics and International Studies, University of Leeds. See her profile here.

© Natalie James. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).