Discussing the subject of terrorism in British schools

The estate has left in the hands of schools the responsibility to block terrorism at an early stage while creating a climate that allows dialogue around the topic of terrorism.

The implementation of discussions about terrorism, extremism and radicalisation in English Secondary School Education is heavily motivated by a political agenda and, more recently, by the Prevent Strategy.

One question lingers: How can an environment where dialogue can be produced without alienating or isolating Muslim pupils?

There are challenges between what the estate agenda requires from schools vs what could actually work in the prevention of terrorism.

Schools need to have a clear ethos to be able to safeguard the children first before a discussion can take place in a classroom where there might prejudice and bias from other students or even the teachers themselves.

Challenging an ideology can be counter-productive while trying to have an honest discussion if this is not done correctly. It reduces the possibility to get students involved fully and does not help in building community cohesion.

Kamal Hanif, the headteacher at Waverley School in Birmingham, provides courses for the Association of School and College Leaders on implementing Prevent.

He has said: “We have to channel their interest and curiosity constructively and help them see how Islamic extremism tarnishes the whole community and that there is an equally valid peaceful way to embrace Islam. If we don’t succeed, this problem will be with us for another generation.”

A positive approach can be taken through academic and open discussions about the history and ethical dimensions of terrorism. Otherwise, Muslim students might still feel that if certain topics are raised, they could be seen as “agreeing” with the terrorists.

There needs to be an environment where those questions can be met with broad-mindedness, and at the same time, there is a clear strategy as to how the school teachers can safely deal with any potential repercussions of such discussions.

The Prevent Strategy although necessary at a national level, does not go far enough in implementing its aims successfully.

Ultimately, schools need to have cross-curricular strategies focusing on Human Rights Education, where views generally accepted by the majority of faith followers can be approached.

They need to allow students to think critically without castigating either the teachers, the students or an entire religion.

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