MORE than half of a group of teachers interviewed for a study on extremism in the classroom said that they had heard pupils express extreme right-wing views. Almost three-quarters also reported children voicing extremist opinions about women or Islamophobia.
All but five of the 96 primary and secondary teachers surveyed said that they had encountered racist comments on at least one occasion. Homophobia and conspiracy theories were also among the most commonly voiced views. Less common was anti-Semitism: more than half of the respondents said that they had never come across it.
The research was conducted by the UCL Institute of Education for the education charity Since 9/11, which campaigns “to ensure that the legacy of 9/11 is one that builds hope from tragedy”.
It concludes that, while most of the teachers were confident that they could counter extremist views in the classroom, current teaching about extremism was found to be “highly variable”, and, in some cases, “superficial” and “tokenistic”.
It says that much anti-extremism work in schools is “stymied” by overcrowded curricula, lack of resources, a desire to perform policy for Ofsted, and a mandate under the Prevent programme to detect and report any vulnerability to radicalisation, rather than stamp out its root causes. Many teachers avoid talking about extreme views in the classroom for fear of “getting it wrong”, especially with regard to race.
Among its conclusions, the report says: “Prejudiced and discriminatory beliefs and actions provide an entry point for extremist ideas. Schools need clear policies and guidelines for addressing all forms of discrimination and students need to be made aware of these and to be encouraged to raise issues when they occur.
“These should be supplemented by consistent messaging in schools and classrooms, and in specifically designed programmes, that enhances students’ resilience, self-confidence and personal development. We wish to emphasise strongly the importance of tackling all forms of prejudice and discrimination in addressing extremism.
“Extremist viewpoints are already being discussed in many schools and these discussions should be encouraged and not avoided. In particular, school leaders should promote opportunities in the curriculum and in wider school life. This does not have to involve discussion of the topic of extremism itself, but rather finding space to allow for the discussion of contemporary and historical controversial issues in which more extreme views may be expressed and challenged.”