Schools ‘must be safe for talking’

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Published: Monday 6th April 2015 by The News Editor

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Schools must remain safe spaces for children to discuss sensitive issues such as extremism, teachers are expected to say today.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) is due to debate a motion which includes a warning that school staff are increasingly uncertain about engaging, or allowing young people to discuss certain issues, for fear that they will have to report youngsters for expressing their views.

Delegates are likely to raise concerns about the move to require schools to promote fundamental British values as well as the Government’s Prevent strategy, which is aimed at tackling extremism.

The strategy suggests school staff can help to identify and refer youngsters whose behaviour suggests that they are being drawn into extremism or terrorism.

An amendment to the resolution calls on conference to confirm that it believes “that schools should be places where young people can discuss events in a spirit of enquiry and openness and that teachers are well placed to facilitate such discussions and deal with the expression of unacceptable viewpoints”.

The motion says: ” Many teachers may feel uncertain about engaging in such discussions with students and may feel the need for guidance and professional development on how to do this.”

It goes on to call on the union to state that it believes: “That the Government’s promotion of ‘British values’, the Prevent agenda and the use of Ofsted to monitor these is having the effect of closing down spaces for such discussion and that many school staff are now unwilling to allow discussions in their classroom for fear of the consequences.”

Where schools have evidence that students may be at risk or vulnerable due to being exposed to groups promoting violence or extremism, this should be dealt with under existing child protection arrangements, the amendment says, rather than new procedures “which may require schools to report concerns directly to the police or law enforcement agencies” which could have the effect of “criminalising” youngsters.

Speaking ahead of the debate, NUT general secretary Christine Blower said there is a need to be ” keeping a safe space for that discussion so that the children themselves don’t feel that they’re putting themselves at risk by wanting to discuss ideas” and so that teachers do not feel they have to shut off conversations.

She said if there are concerns about a child, or an idea they are putting forward, it should be treated as a child protection issue.

As an example, Ms Blower said: “When the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo journalists occurred, there were, in some London schools, Muslim pupils who went into school who did not feel they could say ‘I was offended by those cartoons'”.

She added: “It’s the idea that someone is prevented from saying ‘I was offended by that’ because that might target them as a potential terrorist.”

A Conservative spokesman said: ” The battle against extremism begins at school where young people learn to be active, resilient and tolerant citizens, ready to seize the rich opportunities of modern Britain.

“Teaching about the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance and respect for others is part of our promotion of British values and is at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children.

“We want all schools to promote these values throughout the curriculum, not just as a bulwark against extremism, but as a vital part of preparing young people to get on in life.

“It helps to open young people’s minds, making them into citizens who respect difference, who welcome disagreement and who challenge intolerance.

“Our guidance makes it clear that no teacher or school leader should feel unable to talk about difficult or sensitive issues – indeed teaching about fundamental British values actively encourages such discussions – but no one should be using a school to promote views, opinions or beliefs that discriminate against other people on the basis of their background.”

Published: Monday 6th April 2015 by The News Editor

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