Some people, especially those individuals whose job it is to educate people about the merits of the Government’s PREVENT strategy, seem to believe that other people have misunderstood the political nature of PREVENT.
Such ‘PREVENT educators’ say that there are “weird fabricated versions of PREVENT” being spread on social media amongst a “fog of conspiracy theories.” They say that some people even believe that the PREVENT strategy is turning teachers into superspies, a la James Bond, 007!
Such ‘PREVENT educators’ imply that to reject PREVENT is to embrace the nihilist alternative — “to do nothing to stop people becoming terrorists.”
But such ill-informed beliefs about PREVENT’s critics misrepresent reality somewhat. I say this because all of the major unions, that represent the majority of workers in education, have spent years vocally opposing PREVENT.
For example, just last year at the 147th annual Trades Union Congress (a body which represents the democratic will of over 6 million trade members), a motion was (democratically) debated and then supported which gave voice to popular concerns about the regressive nature of PREVENT, and also discussed ways in which trade unions might work most productively to respond to extremism.
The part of this motion that pertained to PREVENT noted that the TUC “recognises the danger that implementation of PREVENT could destroy relationships between teachers and learners, close down space for open discussion in a safe and secure environment and smother the legitimate expression of political opinion.”
Kathy Wallis from NASUWT moved the motion, making it clear that: “While we must be unstinting in the face of extremism, we must also stand firm against the governments whose response is to place greater restrictions on our human rights, not least freedom of association and of speech, thought, conscience and religion.” Here Wallis pointed her union’s critical finger firmly at David Cameron’s Conservative Government, going on to explain:
“Congress, it is hugely regrettable that prejudice and bigotry is being stoked by a Government which has targeted and demonised religious and ethnic minorities, particularly Muslim communities. Far-right groups are now using the moral panic over the so-called Trojan horse to ignite hatred and division between groups.”
Hank Roberts, the speaker from the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) added:
“The Prevent Strategy can be viewed as a form of racial profiling and internal policing which is exacerbating Islamophobia and vilifying communities. We do not believe that this is the way to successfully deal with terrorism however defined. In fact, it is likely to be counterproductive. We take the view that safeguarding is the appropriate route. ATL believes that it is not the role of teachers or support staff to police those they teach…
“This Government want to create a culture of fear. I taught for many years in a strong Irish community. It was at the time of the IRA bombs and deaths. A bomb factory was discovered in the next road to ours. The Emergency Powers Act, the Prevention of Terrorism Act and more followed. Nearly 2,000 civilians died and over 1,000 troops. Remember Birmingham, Guildford and, indeed, Brighton.
“Even then, we were never asked to spy on and report pupils. Inducing a climate of fear is used to justify ever-greater repressive legislation. Action needs to be taken to support and safeguard the innocent, but it should be proportionate and not at the price of the loss of our civil liberties. Who would not accept that the UK’s disastrous foreign policy has only exacerbated the radicalisation of many? It is disastrous foreign policy which has taught us nothing. It will not protect the innocent or solve the refugee crisis.
“The Government’s role should be, as with Ireland, to work for and support the peace process, not to escalate a war, escalate the removal of civil liberties and cause division in our schools and communities.”
Rena Wood from Unison also supported the motion observing how “A former senior police officer called [PREVENT] a toxic brand.”
Interestingly, only one union spoke out in opposition to the motion. Thus Dave Muritu from the University and College Union (UCU), argued that the motion was “not strong enough on Prevent as it calls for the unions to fall into line behind the Government’s agenda. At the UCU National Conference, we took the position to boycott Prevent so this is why we ask you to oppose this motion.”
What is very clear is that within the educational profession there is very deep-seated opposition to PREVENT and everything it stands for. Indeed, earlier this year at the annual conference of the National Union of Teachers (NUT), a separate motion was passed calling for the Government’s PREVENT duty to be withdrawn and replaced with new guidance for schools. At the conference, NUT executive member Alex Kenny explained: “We want to keep children safe from those organisations who promote hatred and violence. But there are limits to what we can do, and PREVENT is making that harder” (Daily Mail, March 29).