While scrolling through Twitter the other morning I stumbled across a picture posted by a tweeter who will remain anonymous. It showed a notice on the front entrance of a north London primary school which read:
I do not, to the best of my knowledge, associate with anyone who would be a danger to the safeguarding of children, nor do I associate with people holding extremist or radical views. Thank you.
A quick Google search showed that this is not the first school to have implemented a ‘radicalisation policy’ or ‘extremism policy’ in the wake of the government’s Prevent duty of June 2015. Nicky Morgan said that ‘extremism has no place in our schools’. However, do these policies, as both Christine Blower (NUT) and Russell Hobby (NAHT) fear, create an educational space in which teachers are expected to become spies, or experts in surveillance or counter terrorism? The role of the teacher, they maintain, should be first and foremost to safeguard and educate the children and young people in their care.
DfE’s Prevent duty asserts that pupils’ ‘resilience to radicalisation [can be built] by promoting fundamental British values and enabling them to challenge extremist views.’ Resilience is not the problem here; it is the nature of the education that is needed to build resilience. The Prevent duty suggests that through PHSE all students should have time to explore ‘sensitive or controversial issues…equipping them with the knowledge and skills to understand and manage difficult situations…’
Although the building of skills is fundamental, as are the need for ‘resilience, determination, self-esteem, and confidence’ and the ability to engage in healthy debate and weigh evidence, such skills are not possible without the prerequisite knowledge with which to debate. For how can we expect young people to be able to challenge extremist views if they are not provided with the understanding of religious traditions which will enable them to recognise when a view is extreme or not? One can, and should, instil ‘British’ values of mutual respect, but at the same time pupils should be made aware that these values are not uniquely British and that they also run through many of the world’s religions, including Islam. The word Islam means submission (to Allah) yet, to Muslims, it also has another meaning as it is derived from the Arabic root word salam meaning peace: Assalamu ‘alaikum, the preferred greeting between Muslims, means ‘peace be with you.’
We all know how biased the media within this country can be, so teachers perhaps need to be aware of the ‘education’ about Islam that some non-Muslim children receive at home. In their insightful book Pointing the Finger: Islam and Muslims in the British Media, Julian Petley, Robin Richardson and other key scholars analyse the ways in which sections of the media could be seen to foster Islamophobia. Robin Richardson’s remark resonates not only with a valuable social and religious education, but also with the aims of CPRT:
Human beings never exist outside cultural and social locations … No one is totally unaccommodated – or, it follows, unaccommodating. On the contrary, everyone is embedded in a cultural tradition and in a period of history, and in a system of unequal power relations. Everyone, therefore, is engaged in unending tasks and struggles to accommodate and adjust to others. How talk and text in the media help modern societies to understand and to live with difference of perception and value-system is crucial… But, removing differences of perception and values from the world is psychologically not beneficial, morally not desirable and politically not possible. Demonisation is not an option. (Pointing the Finger, p. 20)
By building and maintaining active connections with local faith communities the school not only fosters a relationship but also creates an engaging and more rounded curriculum. It also helps young people to become resilient, confident citizens of a global community.
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi in her 2012 Ebor Lecture The Role of Faith in Society (MP3 available here) discussed the importance of faith when choosing a school for her own daughter; opting not for an Islamic school, or a secular school, ‘but rather an Anglican convent school.’ Baroness Warsi called not for religion to be paramount to society, but just to not be denied a ‘seat at the table of public life.’ She remarked:
So we are not afraid to acknowledge when a debate derives from a religious basis, and we are as confident in taking on board – and taking on – the solutions offered up by a religion as we are in rejecting them.
In the Cambridge Primary Review’s very first report Community Soundings it was noted that although the children interviewed by the Review team voiced a degree of pessimism about the future, including ‘…unease about terrorism’, in those cases where the school ‘… had started engaging children with global and local realities as aspects of their education they were noticeably more upbeat.’ This reminds us that education empowers; and that by engaging children more holistically with faiths and values the skills that Prevent aims to foster may be more easily accomplished.
Moreover, by exploring the similarities as well as differences between the world’s major religions we can not only encourage respect and reciprocity (CPRT aim 5), empower local, national and global citizenship (CPRT aim 7) and celebrate culture and community (CPRT aim 8), but also foster skills (CPRT aim 10) through debate and active engagement, and enact dialogue (CPRT aim 12).
Matt Coward is Administrator of the Cambridge Primary Review Trust