UK Teachers told to spy on five year old Muslim pupils

Teachers told to spy on five year old Muslim pupils

By Hamed Chapman

New controversial guidelines issued by Schools Secretary Ed Balls as part of the Government’s “de-radicalisation” strategy have been greeted with a certain amount of caution and cynicism from teachers and Muslims alike.

Balls insisted that the strategy was “not about teachers monitoring pupils” but was a toolkit to provide more practical advice to teachers on how to support vulnerable pupils, working alongside other local partners and community organisations.

“We need to address the underlying issues that can drive people into the hands of violent extremist groups and encourage local communities to come together to expose the flaws in extremists’ arguments, to reject cruelty and violence and promote our core British values of tolerance, liberty, fairness and respect of the rule of law,” he said.

Teachers are being asked under the guidelines to extend their ‘in loco parentis’ responsibilities to monitoring whether pupils in their charge are developing extreme views and informing the authorities, including the police, where there are concerns. It comes after similar guidance was sent to local authorities in June that also dismisses such issues as foreign policy, discrimination or racism, and even counterterrorism measures themselves, as contributing factors.

The toolkit was largely welcomed by the NASUWT, the largest UK-wide teachers’ union, particularly the fact that the Government took on board its representations to ensure that it “covered the extremism of the BNP and other fascist and racist groups” and not just some Muslims. “Schools already have a statutory duty to safeguard children from all forms of abuse. This guidance rightly identifies that exposing children and young people to violent extremist ideology constitutes a form of abuse as serious as any other,” said General Secretary of the NASUWT, Chris Keates.

The Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation also paid tribute to the Government for their “balanced and detailed” approach to include far-right threats. “We welcome the sensible language that is used by ministers and in particular Ed Balls MP, his approach has been one of encouraging the whole country coming together to deal with this threat, it is not a Muslim, Christian or Jewish problem but a UK problem,” said, Chief Executive of the Foundation, Mohammed Shafiq.

The Muslim Council of Britain also took a cautious line. Education Spokesman for the MCB, Tahir Alam, told The Muslim News, “The toolkit contains some useful suggestions for teachers and educators about how to respond to some of the issues that they may encounter in their establishments. However, packaging this within ‘tackling violent extremism’ is not going to be helpful in the context of school education.”

But the National Union of Teachers, the biggest teachers’ union, was more cautious, saying that there was a “very strong argument for providing the time and space in schools to enable teachers to work through the issues posed by determined individuals who are committed to recruiting young people to violent causes.” For the objectives of Government guidance to be achieved, NUT Acting General Secretary, Christine Blower, said that “trust has to be maintained in schools. No teacher will ignore obvious information about a specific, real threat, but it is vital that teachers are able to discuss with and listen to pupils, without feeling that they have to report every word.”

The General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted, also warned that teachers are “not trained to deal with radicalisation,” while much stronger concern was expressed by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) in the UK and Eire, which represents over 90,000 Muslim students. “We must be realistic about the threat of children as young as five being prone to radicalisation and therefore question the need for such guidelines,” said Qasim Rafiq, spokesman for FOSIS. “By instilling a sense of fear amongst pupils, we risk marginalising and isolating young children which would most certainly prove counterproductive,” Qasim said.

He suggested that a more effective strategy may be to ensure that students from all backgrounds are fully supported and that mechanisms to deal with bullying and intimidation are in place. “Schools have a duty of care to ensure the safety of pupils, however, this does not therefore mean that teachers should be coerced into spying on children, particularly when they are not fully equipped to deal with radicalisation.”

Secretary General of Union of Muslim Organisations, the oldest Muslim umbrella organization in the UK, Dr Syed Aziz Pasha, condemned the policy as “shocking”. “The Government is trying to criminalise small children. This is shocking. They have to rethink as terrorists, who are a very small minority, have no influence on the children or the Muslim community. This will create ill filling between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities,” Dr Pasha told The Muslim News.

New guidelines for universities and colleges were revised this year after controversial measures to spy on Muslim students and Islamic associations were rejected unanimously by lecturers. In May 2007, the University and College Union voted to “oppose the ethnic profiling of students and staff for the purposes of immigration control or security purposes.”

It warned the Government that it would “challenge incursions of the security and immigration services onto university and college campuses” and said it defended the right of 185,000 members to refuse to cooperate with attempts to “transform education into an extension of the security services.”

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