Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Guidance on spotting extremist tendencies

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Learning Together to be Safe is the guidance for schools on violent extremism. Much of what it says also applies to membership of violent gangs and some of the advice on dealing with terrorism is also applicable to semi-organised street gangs.

Though it is relatively short, it is a complex and dense document and any summary is likely to be an over-simplification. Contrary to the view of the media, it is not a guide to spotting a potential terrorist. It is a toolkit to help schools contribute to the prevention of violent extremism. This means that it is primarily educational.

The guidance does not single out Muslim groups and makes no distinction between types of radicalisation and terrorism.

Advice on both the 'formation' of a terrorist and the strategies to head off radicalisation are relevant to extremism and violent gang membership. For example, fascination with violence, a desire for excitement, youthful rebellion, seeking father or family substitutes and seeking friends and community apply in both cases.

Similarly, the triggers for extremism: identity crisis, personal crisis, un- or under-employment and involvement in criminality, and the search for status and identity, either as separate factors or operating together, are generally applicable.

The 'suggestions' section is divided into leadership and values, teaching learning and the curriculum, pupil support (which includes challenging views), managing risks and responding to events. The guidance offers a model which includes some work with the whole school and moves to specific support for individual students particularly at risk.

A particularly important part of the guidance is the exploration of the 'extremist narratives' used by those wishing to radicalise young people. These include 'victim' narratives where an oppressed minority justifies violence because of oppression. There may need to be a review of some aspects of multi-cultural education to see whether, as taught, it may feed into a narrative of this kind.

The guidance urges schools to confront these narratives but it is important that young people are also supported through crises and that the community's resilience to terrorism is promoted. It is important that schools deepen their engagement with communities and liaise with other agencies. Many aspects of the Every Child Matters agenda and extended schools are seen to contribute.

Schools would do well to ensure that copies are available to pastoral and senior staff and are taken into account in curriculum planning.

This guidance could be a basis for training in schools where there is a likelihood of terrorist or extremist issues arising but it will also have relevance in schools where the problems are less obvious or may not be apparent at all.

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