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Radicalisation: what happens in schools may well be critical

Mike Hodgkiss
Mike Hodgkiss 17 August, 2017

Radicalisation: what happens in schools may well be critical

A new counter-extremism commission will help to train schools and colleges to spot signs that young people are being radicalised.

The Home Office has also disclosed that the body it is setting up will be given the role of ensuring that women’s rights are upheld.

New details of the commission’s remit emerged as the government launched a recruitment campaign to appoint its head.

Ministers committed to establishing the Commission for Countering Extremism in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year.

It will be expected to identify examples and advise the government on new policies and laws, as well as help communities and the public sector to confront extremism and promote British values.

The Home Office said: “The commission will also help to train schools and colleges to spot the warning signs and stamp out extremism, as they have with racism.

The terrorist attacks in Manchester and London renewed discussions about how to stop young Muslims being radicalised.

A lot of the ideas focus on closing down social media sites, reporting “at-risk” individuals or organisations, and educating pupils on the evils of extremism. But while it’s important to be having these types of conversations, most of these suggestions are reactive. In that they are about what to do when the seeds of terrorism have already been planted, meaning there has been little mention of strategies to reduce the chances of young people coming under the influence of violent extremism in the first place.

There is no excuse for terrorism, but if there is any chance of stopping it, there has to be understanding of its roots, along with long-term strategies to undermine the causes.

And as most terrorists are “home-grown” – in that they are often born and raised in the country they then go on to attack – what happens in schools may well be critical. Of course, putting things in place in education is not a cure all, but it may help to keep all of us safe and also ensure that communities are not divided.

What can schools and school leaders do?


Firstly it is vital to recognise that a sense of belonging is a basic psychological need and the groups to whom we are affiliated shape who we are and who we become. Schools that only value high flyers create “exclusive belonging” where bullying and marginalisation can thrive.

Social exclusion inhibits feelings of belonging, self-esteem, perceptions of control over the environment, and of leading a meaningful existence. It can also lead to powerful, negative, deep-rooted reactions.

Secondly, let us remember that education is more than gathering facts and passing exams, it is also about learning how to grow into who you are as a person and learning to live together.

It is not only what young people believe about themselves that matters, it is what they come to believe about others. Where schools adopt a proactive approach to social and emotional learning they encourage young people to find out what they have in common, making it more difficult to dehumanise others.

Thirdly, schools should aim to identify positive values and strengths, and help children to understand the skills that are required to build healthy relationships – including the development of empathy.

When young people are given opportunities to understand more about their emotions, they may come to a better understanding of why they feel what they do, and also find safe ways to express feelings. And they may also begin to appreciate how their emotions may by manipulated by others.

Fourthly, schools need to provide constructive channels that engage pupils positively with their communities in ways that provide them with a sense of being agents of change.

It’s about teaching empathy as well as literacy. It’s about teaching compassion as well as composition. It’s about teaching advocacy as well as algebra.


This is summed up very well by this recent tweet from Vic Goddard, Principal of Passmores School, Essex.