Last Friday (18th September) the BBC Radio 4 Today programme discussed the Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy, which places a statutory obligation upon all schools and children’s services to incorporate into their child-safeguarding procedures the necessary mechanisms for the prevention of ‘radicalisation’. Headteachers, governing bodies and other managers of childcare are now subject to a duty under section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, in the exercise of their functions, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. The DfE has helpfully published The Prevent Duty – an advisory booklet – to inform and guide:
In order for schools and childcare providers to fulfil the Prevent duty, it is essential that staff are able to identify children who may be vulnerable to radicalisation, and know what to do when they are identified. Protecting children from the risk of radicalisation should be seen as part of schools’ and childcare providers’ wider safeguarding duties, and is similar in nature to protecting children from other harms (e.g. drugs, gangs, neglect, sexual exploitation), whether these come from within their family or are the product of outside influences.
Schools and childcare providers can also build pupils’ resilience to radicalisation by promoting fundamental British values and enabling them to challenge extremist views. It is important to emphasise that the Prevent duty is not intended to stop pupils debating controversial issues..
And (as previously examined) the Government defines ‘extremism’ as:
..vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas. Terrorist groups very often draw on extremist ideas developed by extremist organisations.
But there’s a very curious interview “underneath a cloudless blue sky” with a teacher at Kirklees College in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, which is classed by the Home Office as a ‘priority area’ in the fight against extremism and radicalisation. Wade through the busker’s “popular tune” and the unintelligible student rants about the fantasy glories of the Islamic State (“..going to ISIS is, like, the new trend..”), and pay close attention to the comments of Polly Harrow, the College’s Head of Student Support (transcribed below, because it won’t be available via iPlayer beyond 18th October [section begins at 1.33]):
Polly Harrow: Really, we’re talking about those fundamental equality and diversity values, which are about respect and about, not just tolerance, but acceptance of difference, and others.
Sima Kotecha: If we’re talking about acceptance, surely a Muslim person who believes that homosexuality is wrong, is it not your duty, as a British person, to accept that?
Polly Harrow: If that’s what you think and that’s what you believe and you want to hold that in your head, that is your business and your right. But bear in mind that if you speak it out loud, you might be breaking the law.
Quite why BBC reporter Sima Kotecha segued straight from online jihadi indoctrination to an imperative of homosexual inculcation is anyone’s guess. At the risk of the comment thread being hijacked by gay-sex obsessives, there is a far more serious moral-educational issue here which merits a little scrutiny.
Polly Harrow is of the view that holding the moral view “in your head” that homosexuality wrong is “your right”, but the vocal articulation of that view “might be breaking the law”. Polly Harrow is a senior educator. She is also the College’s Head of Student Services (including Safeguarding and Prevent Duty). According to her LinkedIn profile, this includes “Health & Wellbeing, Counselling..”. One wonders how a depressed, if not suicidal Muslim teenager struggling with his or her sexuality might feel about approaching her:
“I think I’m gay, Miss. I’m Muslim, and I read the Qur’an, and know Allah says it’s an abomination and it’s unnatural to fancy other boys, but..”
“Whoah, hang on there Mohammed, let me just call the police..”
This isn’t about threatening to throw gays from the roof of a block of flats or stringing them up from the nearest crane, which would certainly be a matter for the police. Polly Harrow says that if you believe homosexuality is wrong and “you speak it out loud, you might be breaking the law”.
If it is “your right” to hold a certain a view on same-sex relations “in your head”, why is it not also “your right” to hold a certain view of jihad “in your head”? If Polly Harrow believes it to be an educational imperative to silence all discussion and debate about homosexuality (for how can students debate freely and confidently if one side is warned “you might be breaking the law”?), how can she possibly fulfil the DfE’s guidelines not to inhibit debate about these crucial matters? The Prevent Duty makes explicit:
It is important to emphasise that the Prevent duty is not intended to stop pupils debating controversial issues. On the contrary, schools should provide a safe space in which children, young people and staff can understand the risks associated with terrorism and develop the knowledge and skills to be able to challenge extremist arguments.
..schools can build pupils’ resilience to radicalisation by providing a safe environment for debating controversial issues and helping them to understand how they can influence and participate in decision-making. Schools are already expected to promote the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils and, within this, fundamental British values..
..Citizenship helps to provide pupils with the knowledge, skills and understanding to prepare them to play a full and active part in society. It should equip pupils to explore political and social issues critically, to weigh evidence, to debate, and to make reasoned arguments.
In an educational institution, children and young adults should be encouraged to debate robustly all contentious matters of politics, religion and morality, and to consider arguments from all shades of opinion. The articulation of a religiously orthodox view on same-sex relations is not breaking the law – nor is there any question that it “might be breaking the law”. With such an assertion, Polly Harrow is deploying the very ‘fear’ strategy which educationalists found so offensive about Section 28. As previously examined in the context of ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’: “If Section 28 – designed, as it was, to ban the promotion of homosexuality in schools – became a debate-stifling instrument of teacher intimidation and student stigmatisation, then by what reasoning does the Government believe that EDOs won’t have a comparable effect on Christian teachers and students?”
If education is not to challenge “what you think and.. what you believe and you want to hold that in your head”, what is its moral purpose? If children believe “in their heads” that drugs are fine, might they not then puff and snort? If they believe “in their heads” that gangs are cool, might they not bully and harass? If they believe “in their heads” that the sexual exploitation of white women is cool, might they not grow up to rape and torment kuffar girls?
Polly Harrow is wrong on so many educational levels, and it is a matter of grave concern that she is the head of ‘Prevent’ anywhere, let alone head of “Health & Wellbeing” and student counselling. There is no higher calling than the educational vocation to inculcate certain virtues – civic or Christian – in the minds of children, so that they develop the internal principles to guide both their behaviour and decision-making for full participation in democratic society. A student’s personal values guide conduct: they inform them of what is right and what is wrong; what is good and what is bad. These determine what kind of adult the child will grow up to be.
If it is not Polly Harrow’s ethical vocation to reify her college’s moral-evaluative ethos, or to facilitate the formation of character virtues by affirming the moral economy of schooling and the fundamental right to articulate a moral opinion – which must be a fundamental British value – she will only exacerbate resentment, perpetuate intolerance, and, in the final analysis, prevent nothing but morally responsible behaviour.