The extension of the PREVENT counter-extremism safeguarding duty came into force over the summer, but it has attracted increased attention in December, following the terrorist attack in Paris and heightened tensions over military action in Syria. Although the initiative is intended to be conducted in partnership with communities and to promote cohesion with society, recent weeks have seen PREVENT criticised as divisive.
An investigation by the Times determined that there have been only a relatively small number of referrals to the anti-radicalisation programme and that engagement amongst Muslim communities is lower than apparently expected, with referrals from faith leaders standing at around eight percent. Police, schools and the NHS meanwhile make up the bulk of most reports, but with only one in ten requiring intervention from the channel programme, there are concerns that fears of over-zealousness are not unfounded and that this will only fuel disillusionment. One faith group in London has called for a boycott of the programme, arguing that children feel unable to discuss their opinions without risking being labelled extremists and that this is contributing to a severe breakdown in trust.
Mounting a challenge to PREVENT may prove difficult however. Those subject to the legal duty, including childcare providers, would be taking a big risk in failing to comply with it. At least one setting has already been graded as inadequate because they had not incorporated PREVENT into their safeguarding procedures, albeit because they were unaware of it, rather than conducting a deliberate boycott. Implementation might carry its own problems however, with some parents feeling that monitoring their toddlers for signs of extremism borders on the absurd. With parents increasingly having the ear of the government in childcare matters, this issue is one that is unlikely to disappear.
Support from the government for PREVENT remains strong however, and at the moment any action taken is likely to be further clarification of guidelines, rather than slackening or reversing the duty. Responding to criticism, ministers have pointed to examples of engagement with the programme and praised the 'fantastic work' done by communities to combat radicalisation and oppose the 'twisted narrative' of extremists.
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