'Prevent duty' ineffective, stigmatises Muslim students - research
The new research found the extra scrutiny on Muslim students are making them feel more marginalised by state and society. Source: Shutterstock

The Prevent duty, which requires teachers to monitor extremist behaviour among their students, is stigmatising Muslim students and proving to be counterproductive, a new research reveals.

School and college staff in England are reporting concerns the duty makes Muslim students feel “singled out” and shuts them off from having meaningful conversations on extremism with them, according to research by Coventry, Durham and Huddersfield universities.

While most schools are confident about upholding the duty and have not seen a “chilling effect” on free speech in their institutions, they report facing issues in promoting “fundamental British values”

“We heard about fears this element is both hampering effective curriculum work around shared values and democratic citizenship, and creating uncertainty about the focus of the Prevent duty,” researcher Professor Paul Thomas from the University of Huddersfield’s School of Education and Professional Development, said.

The Prevent duty is part of the United Kingdom government’s anti-radicalisation strategy introduced two years ago, where public bodies including universities and colleges have a statutory obligation to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

This means promotion of “fundamental British values” and referring any concerns to a local Prevent body, which then decides if further action needs to be taken.

Government officials believe the programme is working and has plans for expansion, despite criticism by the National Union of Teachers and the National of Union of Students.

“The Prevent duty is proving counterproductive by alienating certain communities and has the potential to create discrimination based on their ethnicity, faith or culture. Black and Muslim students are subjected to racial profiling and state-sponsored Islamophobia, which has no place in our universities and colleges,” NUS vice-president (welfare)  Shelly Asquith said in a statement last August.

Echoing Asquith’s comment, the new research also found the extra scrutiny on Muslim students are making them feel more marginalised by state and society. Some education professionals are driven to say this effect is sowing doubt as to how effective the duty is if genuine cases of the individuals drawn into terrorism are not picked up.

In cases where referrals have been made, the study suggests these may have been driven more by anxiety about missing a “genuine” case, and an “if in doubt speak to someone” culture instead.

Al Jazeera reports since the duty was introduced, students are unwilling to discuss Charlie Hebdo for fear of reprisal over their opinion. Another student was accused of holding “terrorist-like” views by a police officer over leaflets promoting a boycott of Israel he had brought to school.

Another worrying discovery the research found is while schools have accepted the duty, its implementation still leaves much to be desired. One in three education staff without a lead safeguarding role report they are unable to describe themselves as “fairly confident” in carrying out the duty.

The level of confidence drops even further among younger or less experienced staff.

In light of these findings, researchers say there is an “urgent need” to systematically evaluate “how, if at all, the Prevent duty has impacted student experiences”, as well as further research on the issue.

It may be years before the true impact of the Prevent duty is known, Thomas says, adding: “In the meantime, we hope this research can serve as a stimulus for constructive yet critical discussion about what the Prevent duty means for schools and colleges.”

For the study, 70 in-depth interviews were held with education professionals from 14 schools and colleges in West Yorkshire, London, and eight local authority level Prevent practitioners. Researchers also conducted a national online survey of 225 school and college staff, as well as discussion sessions with civil society bodies.

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