UK schools make highest number of referrals to anti-terror programme

Latest figures may have been affected by school closures during coronavirus pandemic

Children under the age of 15 made up the largest proportion of referrals from all age groups to the Prevent programme. PA
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Figures from the UK government's anti-terror programme show that schoolboys account for the highest proportion of people considered to be most at risk of radicalisation.

UK schools are also making the highest number of referrals to the Prevent scheme for the first time, Home Office data published on Thursday showed.

In the year to March 2022, there were 6,406 referrals to Prevent, which aims to stop people turning to terrorism.

This is up 30 per cent compared to the previous period when 4,915 were made, in a rise likely to have been driven by the removal of restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.

The education sector made the highest number of referrals (2,305, or 36 per cent), replacing the police, which made up 28 per cent (1,808) of the total.

The report also notes the figures may have been affected by school closures during the pandemic.

Children under the age of 15 made up 1,829 of the referrals (29 per cent) – the second largest proportion where age was known.

Of the referrals where gender was recorded (6,403), most were male (5,725; 89 per cent).

The proportion of males at each stage of the Prevent programme has been on the rise since the 12 months to March 2016 when records began.

Children under the age of 15 made up the largest proportion of referrals from all age groups that were taken as “channel cases” under the programme, meaning they are considered most at risk of becoming radicalised and turning to terrorism.

This age group accounted for 37 per cent (299) of the referrals adopted as channel cases, just slightly higher than the 295 in the 15-20 age group.

Most referrals that became channel cases were for males (746 out of 804).

In the year to March, a third of all referrals were made for someone with “a vulnerability present”, but no ideology or terrorism risk identified (2,127 or 33 per cent).

The second-highest category was for referrals made amid fears about extreme right-wing radicalisation (1,309, or 20 per cent).

Schoolchildren during class in a primary school. PA

This was greater than the number for Islamist-related concerns (1,027; 16 per cent).

And 154 (2 per cent) of the referrals due to concerns about school massacres and 77 (1 per cent) were “incel-related”.

The incel, or involuntarily celibate, subculture involves men expressing hostility and extreme resentment, mainly online, towards those who are sexually active, especially women.

They believe they are unable to have romantic relationships with women and are often considered to be radical misogynists.

Some men linked to the movement have carried out mass shootings in the US and Canada.

Jake Davison’s incel beliefs have been highlighted during the inquest into Britain’s worst mass shooting in more than a decade, when he killed five people in Keyham, Plymouth, in 2021.

“One of Prevent’s crucial roles is providing important indicators of emerging risks, particularly in light of incidents in other parts of the world," said Det Chief Supt Maria Lovegrove, Counter Terrorism Policing’s national co-ordinator for Prevent.

“This is demonstrated by the inclusion, for the first time, of referrals relating to the incel subculture or school massacres in the 2021-2022 statistics.

“Whilst not currently considered terrorist ideologies, they have the ability to inspire terrible acts of violence, and it is therefore important that Prevent works to disengage people from these beliefs.

“The number of these cases is very low but it is encouraging that people feel confident to report concerns about risk of radicalisation, wherever this stems from.”

The figures also demonstrate the “increasing complexity of referrals and concerns reported to Prevent”, Ms Lovegrove said.

“Young men who are fascinated by, and seek out, all types of extremist or violent content online are increasingly prevalent in referrals."

An intelligence and security committee report published last year said MI5 acknowledged there is a “growing synergy” between incel and extreme right-wing terrorism ideologies, but cautioned against putting too much emphasis on those links.

While incel should not be automatically treated as terrorism, the security service said it should be recognised as a “potential terrorist motivation” and assessed on a case-by-case basis, according to the report.

A long-awaited review of Prevent, led by former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross, is due to be published next month.

Updated: January 26, 2023, 11:18 PM