UK teachers 'lack resources' to tackle classroom extremism

Charity calls for open and frank discussions in the classroom about the nature of the threat

Teachers lack the time and training to tackle extremist views spread online and expressed in the classroom, a study says. Philip Cheung / The National
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Teachers across England lack the resources and confidence to persuade schoolchildren to reject dangerous extremist ideologies 20 years on from the world’s worst terrorist attack, a study has found.

Three quarters of teachers have heard anti-Muslim or misogynistic views in the classroom, while more than half have heard pupils express far-right opinions, the study found.

Despite police warning of a growing cadre of young extremists, staff said there was little space in the school timetable to address the concerns, with teaching often “superficial” or “tokenistic”, the study, commissioned by education charity SINCE 9/11, said.

The problems were compounded by an unwillingness by some teachers to address the issue for fear of getting it wrong, especially on matters related to race, it said.

“This research is a wake-up call for us all,” said Kamal Hanif, an expert on preventing violent extremism in schools. “We must make sure that every pupil is taught how to reject extremist beliefs and ideologies.

“We know that right now, extremists are trying to lure young people into a world of hatred and violence, both online and in person. We must use the power of education to fight back and help young people stand up and reject extremism and violence.”

The report pointed to a broad swathe of extremist views from race and religious hatred to more common conspiracy theories. Almost 90 per cent of teachers interviewed in the study had heard conspiracy theories, such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates controlling “people via microchips in Covid vaccines”.

The findings, by researchers from London's UCL, comes amid growing concerns about the impact of online grooming by extremists while pupils were confined to their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Teachers interviewed for the report, Addressing Extremism Through the Classroom, told researchers that they were concerned about a rise in pupils looking at hateful content online.

In Britain, under-18s bucked the trend of decreasing counter-terrorism arrests in the year to March 2021. Young people under the age of 24 have accounted for nearly 60 per cent of extreme right-wing terrorist arrests in the last year.

And the country’s most senior counter-terrorism officer told MPs last year that children as young as 13 were starting to talk about committing terrorist acts.

Teachers interviewed in the study said that they were concerned that the government’s primary ambition for teachers was to seek out and report pupils who are thought to be at risk of radicalisation.

Dr Becky Taylor, of UCL, said: “This report shows that some schools fail to move beyond surface-level explorations of violence, extremism and radicalisation.”

The study calls for teachers to be given better training to lead frank and open discussions in the classroom about extremism so that they can teach pupils how to reject dangerous ideologies.

Janice Brooks, who escaped from the 84th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Centre and works with SINCE 9/11, said: “Classrooms must be safe places in which young people can explore sensitive and controversial issues.

“Clearly, the burden of teaching about extremism is not on teachers alone, addressing extremism is everybody’s business.”

Updated: September 06, 2021, 11:01 PM