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Counter-terrorism and schools

Updated: Feb 17

The law has recently changed and now a range of public organisations have a general duty to stop people being drawn into terrorism. Are you aware of what you have to do under the new Act? Find out more about staying compliant with the law.

The issue of young people becoming radicalised and associating with terrorist organisations is one that has bedevilled both education authorities and the government for some time. Now, a new law has come into operation that puts the responsibility for preventing this form of radicalisation squarely back in the laps of schools and other public bodies.

Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which came into force on July 1st, places what is called a ‘general duty’ on a range of public bodies to prevent people being drawn into terrorism.

Schools will have a new duty of care to their pupils. Staff, school governors and university vice-chancellors must ensure that any external speakers invited to talk to students are appropriate.

The government said that its aim for the Act was to challenge extremism, which they have defined as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.

The Act essentially underlines in law the contents of the government’s Prevent strategy, with which schools will already be already familiar.

What does the Act require?

All schools, including publicly-funded or independent, and organisations covered by the Early Years Foundation Stage framework are covered, as well as children’s homes.

All schools leaders (including governors) must:

  • set up mechanisms, or make use of those which already exist, for understanding the risk of extremism;

  • make sure that all members of staff are aware of and understand the risk and establish strategies to deal with it;

  • let everyone know how important the duty is and promote it at every opportunity;

  • monitor the way that the duty is implemented and ensure that it is done so effectively.

The Act also puts other duties on schools, including:

  • working effectively with other local agencies, including the Local Safeguarding Children Board and sharing information with them.

  • establishing and maintaining systems for storing and processing records.

  • making assessments of the local risk to students of all types of extremism.

  • showing that the systems and procedures they have established are working to protect children/students.

  • setting up clear and effective protocols to ensure that visiting speakers are appropriate, suitable and supervised during their visits. Staff should request details of the content well ahead of the actual event, including footage and visual presentation material. If any concerns are raised by what is supplied, staff should be prepared to cancel the event.

  • instituting training systems for members of staff which will give them knowledge of the issues surrounding extremism and prevention strategies and the confidence to address the issues they may encounter, including the identification of children at risk and the challenging of extremist ideology that might be used to legitimise terrorist activities. It will also give staff the information they need to refer students if further help is required.

  • setting up ICT protocols and systems that are robust enough to filter out extremist materials and ensure that they cannot be accessed by students. Any policies referring to the use of the internet and ICT should specifically mention the new duty. Whilst older students and staff may need to research terrorist-related issues as part of their studies, the school should ensure that such research is monitored to identify any misuse, should it occur.

  • taking steps to ensure that no school building is used to give a platform to extremist organisations or individuals. Some schools may, in the course of their relationship with the local community, make available facilities to community groups and the use of those facilities needs to be monitored.

Managing prayer and faith facilities

Many further education institutions and sixth-form colleges have facilities for their students that include prayer rooms. Clear policies on the way that these should be used need to be established, including a strategy to ensure that they are not being used as a forum for the propagation of extremist ideology.

Schools’ implementation of the duty will be monitored by Ofsted.

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