Academics warn more to be done to tackle extremism in schools

More than half of teachers surveyed had heard pupils expressing far-right extremist views – and around three-quarters had heard “extremist views about women” or Islamophobia

A report by academics has warned that education in UK schools often fails to adequately broach and counter extremism – like racism, misogyny and homophobia – as the 9/11 charity that commissioned the report warned its findings were “a wake-up call for us all”.

SINCE 9/11 – a UK educational charity that produces school teaching materials on the 2001 terrorist attacks – commissioned the report on extremism in schools by UCL’s Institute of Education (IoE) to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the 11 September attacks, the deadliest terrorist attack in history.

Academics at the Centre for Teachers & Teaching Research interviewed around 100 teachers in UK schools about their experiences and analysed academic studies on how schools tackle extremist ideas in citizenship sessions.

The report – Addressing Extremism Through the Classroom – warns that limited training, a paucity of learning resources and crowded curriculums could be producing “highly variable”, and in some cases “superficial” and “tokenistic”,  teaching.

The report recommends that more lesson time and teacher training be set aside for education about extremism. School leaders should “promote opportunities in the curriculum and in wider school life, such as tutor times, assemblies and in incidental conversations with students, and encourage the use of these opportunities for such views to be problematised”, the report recommends.

Fundamental British values – classified in the report as democracy, diversity and dissent – should form “a key plank” of classroom conversations, alongside conversations about “for example, what it means to be British”.

The charity hopes the report will encourage school leaders and ministers to renew the focus in classrooms as the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks draws near.

The 11 September attacks were four coordinated terrorist attacks perpetrated by the terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States of America, which claimed the lives of 2,977 people.

Simon Cole, a chief constable and the police lead for Prevent, last month warned that increasing numbers of children were being radicalised by banned neo-Nazi groups.

Children in school today were not yet born when the attacks took place. Indeed, many of their teachers were themselves only children at the time. It is vital that we all learn about the attacks themselves and their ongoing impact – Kamal Hanif, trustee, SINCE 9/11

Teachers that participated in the study expressed concern about the rise in pupils looking at hateful content online. More than half had heard pupils expressing far-right extremist views in the classroom – and around three-quarters had heard “extremist views about women” or Islamophobia.

But many of those same teachers expressed reservations about handling sensitive subjects in a classroom out of fear they will “get it ‘wrong’, especially on matters related to race”.

Dr Becky Taylor, a UCL researcher that worked on the report, said: “This report shows that some schools fail to move beyond surface-level explorations of violence, extremism and radicalisation, however, it is without a doubt that schools can play an important role.

“In addition to having set policies and programmes designed to address discrimination, many schools already have supplementary messaging in schools and classrooms to enhance students’ resilience and self-confidence. Education policies must consider that fact that some schools may need more help than others to build on what they already have in place.

“Engaging well with their local communities and ensuring that schools and teachers are supported and appropriately resourced can help young people to problematise ‘hateful extremism’.

“We are convinced that teachers need to be able to bring their own pedagogical expertise to the classroom, enhanced through appropriate professional development, to ensure their classrooms are safe environments for open discussion.”

Kamal Hanif, a trustee of SINCE 9/11 and the executive principal of Waverley Education Foundation, a multi-academy trust in Birmingham, said: “This research is a wake-up call for us all. We must make sure that every pupil is taught how to reject extremist beliefs and ideologies. We urgently need to equip schools with the tools to teach pupils how to reject extremist views. Dangerous ideologies must never be swept under the carpet.

“The findings of this study are particularly pertinent as we approach the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Children in school today were not yet born when the attacks took place. Indeed, many of their teachers were themselves only children at the time. It is vital that we all learn about the attacks themselves and their ongoing impact.

“We know that right now, extremists are trying to lure young people into a world of hatred and violence, both online and in person. We must use the power of education to fight back and help young people stand up and reject extremism and violence. We need far more clarity from government about the need to have time in the curriculum for frank and open discussions about extremism.”

Read more: GSA president calls for ‘era of opportunity’ for young people

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