Anti-radicalisation policies proposed for school classes

28 November 2014

PA

Happier days: David Bell, former Chief Inspector of Schools, during an earlier visit to Sir John Cass and Redcoat School

Happier days: David Bell, former Chief Inspector of Schools, during an earlier visit to Sir John Cass and Redcoat School

FRONT-line schools, including church schools in ethnically mixed urban conurbations, are likely to be those most affected by the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill, introduced into Parliament on Wednesday.

The Bill will place a statutory duty on schools, colleges, and universities to put in place anti-radicalisation policies and ban visits from extremist speakers. Similar provisions will apply to prisons and local councils. The Bill has all-party support, and is likely to become law by Christmas.

Commenting on the implications of the Bill for schools, the Church of England's chief education officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, said: "We need to take the threat of terrorism very seriously, and we are committed to being part of the solution.

"But if schools are to be held to account, they need very clear advice about how they can prevent young people being drawn into terrorism. We don't want just to prevent the development of extremist views, but to promote a positive vision. This includes effective religious education that teaches pupils that those who advocate violence, hatred, and intolerance are distorting their particular faith."

This week, teachers' leaders accepted that schools had a part to play. The general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, Brian Lightman, said that the task for schools and colleges was to divert young people from organisations that held unacceptable extremist views. "We are preparing guidance for school and college leaders, setting out actions they can and should take when they suspect young people may be vulnerable to radicalisation or extremism."

But he warned members "to be careful about making assumptions. . . It is not neces-sarily the case that, because a vulnerable young person behaves in a certain way, or has certain experiences, he or she is either committed to extremist ideology or may become a terrorist."

The general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, Russell Hobby, said that schools had a duty to protect children and neighbourhoods. But he also said: "They are not a police service. A school's main contribution to the cause of anti-extremism is to provide a balanced curriculum and a safe environment where human rights are respected." Where school leaders saw signs that students were at risk of radicalisation, they should involve specialist agencies, he said.

 

INTENSIVE lessons on the dangers of Islamic extremism were already taking place at Sir John Cass and Redcoat School, in east London, last week as the Church of England school - one of the most successful of its kind in the country - was placed in special measures by OFSTED, writes Margaret Holness.

The reason given by inspectors was: "The school has not put in place steps to ensure that students, staff, and governors understand the risks posed by extremism."

The 1500-pupil comprehensive, where more than 90 per cent of pupils are of Bangladeshi heritage, lost its previous "outstanding" status after a snap inspection by OFSTED in September, which confirmed suspicions that some members of the sixth-form Islamic Society were misusing social media, including a dedicated school YouTube channel.

Postings included links to extremist sites and messages discouraging students from attending school events that did not "adhere to a particular religious viewpoint". One warned that any student who attended a leavers' party or indulged in "free mixing" and "listening to music" would face severe consequences later, the report reveals.

The report shows that the school's senior leadership team and governors had reacted inadequately to warnings given earlier this year by counter-terrorism police. Arrangements for vetting visiting speakers and monitoring student groups were "not robust enough".

Communication between the head, Haydn Evans, members of the senior leadership team, and gov-ernors was poor, inspectors found.

A statement from the London Diocesan Board for Schools (LDBS) said that urgent action was already under way to tackle the issues raised by OFSTED. "Extremism has no place in our society, especially not in our schools." Diocesan staff are understood to be involved in an improvement plan, which draws on the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, now in place at Sir John Cass. They hope that the school, which will be subject to frequent visits from OFSTED inspectors, could regain its former Outstanding rating by Easter.

Mr Evans briefed parents about the OFSTED report, and the measures being taken in response, at special meetings last Friday. They were chaired by the Revd Trevor Critchlow, Rector of St Dunstan's, Stepney, and the new chairman at Sir John Cass, and attracted a high turnout, it was reported.

Sir John Cass and Redcoat is the only C of E school so far to be inspected in relation to the Government's anti-extremism agenda. The criticisms it faces are vastly different from those levelled at the Birmingham schools - none of them faith schools - involved in the "Trojan Horse" inquiry (News, 24 October).

Where inspectors in Birmingham found evidence of co-ordinated efforts by some teachers and governors to make their schools more compliant with a conservative form of Islam, Sir John Cass senior teachers and governors are criticised for failing to monitor the internet activity and behaviour of some of their sixth-formers.

The Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw, also appears to draw a sharp distinction, in his advice note to the Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan, between the findings of the snap inspection of Sir John Cass and OFSTED's simultaneous unan-nounced visits to six independent Muslim schools, two of them con-nected to the East London Mosque.

All six were found to be inadequate in all respects, the general curriculum compromised by concentration on Islamic teaching. Sir Michael recommends that the Education Secretary use powers under the Education Act 2002, likely to lead to closure.

In the case of Sir John Cass, he promises robust evaluation of school and local-authority improvement plans, and early special-measures monitoring visits.

As news of the downgrading of Sir John Cass was made public, parents, former pupils and other locals piled in with praise for the much loved school, which is a beacon of success in a deeply disadvantaged area. Heads of neighbouring schools rushed to the defence of the head of Sir John Cass. Mr Evans was appointed CBE in the last New Year Honours list for his stewardship of the school for nearly 20 years. Earlier this month, he was awarded an honorary degree by the University of East London for the same reason.

Sir John Cass and Redcoat was a failing school when Mr Evans took over in 1995. He introduced rules that improved standards of behaviour and academic achievement. By 2004, the school was seen by OFSTED as a model for educating pupils of Bangladeshi and similar backgrounds. In 2008, it was rated Outstanding.

Mr Evans was reportedly "shell-shocked" by the result of the snap inspection. A response from Tower Hamlets council emphasising the overall success of the school included a brief statement from Mr Evans. He was "surprised" by the finding. His priority was to rectify the problems OFSTED had identified, the statement said.

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