From education to employment

Checking in with Prevent policy: self-assessment tool pointers

In October the Department for Education (DfE) updated its Prevent duty guidance to include a self-assessment tool. Gemma Gronland breaks down what this new tool means in practice and how the risk landscape has changed as more students feel isolated and turn online for comfort and meaning.

In October the Department for Education (DfE) updated its Prevent duty guidance to include a self-assessment tool. This is intended to support providers to ‘assess the impact and effectiveness’ of their efforts to meet the requirements of the Prevent duty, and the Education inspection framework. Whilst the tool is not mandatory, it offers an opportunity for providers to better understand and comply with Prevent, to evaluate how embedded their practices are within an institution, and to aid continuous improvement in this policy area.

It is recommended that the designated Prevent lead undertake this self-assessment exercise annually, following the three consecutive steps: ‘evaluation, action plan and summary’, and to populate the spreadsheet accordingly with evidence, scores and rag-ratings in each ‘requirement’ area.

There are 9 requirements:

  1. Leadership
  2. Partnership
  3. Staff training
  4. Online safety
  5. Welfare and pastoral support
  6. Speakers and events
  7. Site security
  8. British values
  9. Learner engagement

Prompt questions are provided on the spreadsheet, under each requirement heading, to facilitate evidence-gathering activities. Additionally, the guidance invites the Prevent lead to reach out to their regional further education (FE) Prevent coordinators to support action-planning and to seek guidance on local Prevent networks.

The above are the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how to undertake the self-assessment – all quite easy to follow. However, the DfE has explicitly stated in the guidance that this is not a box-ticking activity and therefore, as someone who has a research background in Prevent, I want to offer some pointers to maximise the usefulness of the tool. Below I lay out some helpful theoretical approaches to frame the self-assessment tool, make reference to research on anti-extremism pedagogy and highlight some changes in the risk landscape.

Policy ‘on paper’ versus ‘in practice’

When policies are introduced in the education sector, we often think about what the guidance states, how we might organise resources to secure the implementation of said policy and figure out what needs to happen in order to be compliant. Yet, the reality is that policies are, to use the words of educational sociologist Stephen Ball, ‘jumbled, messy, contested, creative and mundane’.

Policy enactment – focusing on how people ‘do’ the policy – might be more appropriate than looking at what the policy says you should ‘do on paper’. To take Prevent as an example, the reporting mechanism will be interpreted differently by each member of staff within an institution, even when they have had the same training and followed the same guidance. The ‘doing’ is different because staff are human-beings who approach policy decisions with their own baggage. Moreover, Prevent is a thorny policy; not everyone in the sector is comfortable with all, or some, of its parts.

Policy enactments are leaky, but we still want to find a way to drive towards best practice. Returning to the self-assessment tool, it might be helpful to think about thin versus thick approaches to Prevent and how we might strive towards the latter. A thin approach might use the self-assessment tool to show minimal compliance with the requirements; it is faster, easier and the path of least resistance to demonstrate evidence showing the duty is adhered to. In a time-strapped and low-resourced FE sector, who can blame anyone for doing this? Yet I want to make the case that a thick approach might pay dividends later on, given that Ofsted is signalling that a more robust assessment of safeguarding is likely going-forward because of the pandemic.

Rather than simply evidence gathering to prove compliance, it might be more thorough to think about the evidence-gathering methodology. Were conversations to evidence-gather informed and deliberative? Were all key stakeholders listened to, including students? Was learning from the listening exercise reflected on, not just logged? Was a collaborative approach taken, drawing upon expertise within the institution to help locate gaps in practice and to support action-planning? Is there buy-in for the action plan?

Example: a thick response to British values

All requirements of the self-assessment tool are important; they cover the breadth of risk mitigation and all should be given due diligence. However, I want to probe one requirement area to highlight how a thick policy response can be met. Under British values, the self-assessment tool asks: are British values embedded in each of the learner’s curriculum? Do staff and managers exemplify British values in their organisation? And, do staff understand the concept and importance of British values and are they confident in engaging in discussions (broad and specific) with learners?

Democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and mutual respect and tolerance for differences are the values education institutions have to evidence as part of Prevent. Staff can exemplify the values through some structural choices they make and events they choose to run. Student elections and councils promote democratic norms; enrichment activities – such as groups for LGBTQ+ students – help promote individual liberty and tolerance; codes of conduct, safety procedures for being on-site and IT usage rules all promote the importance of the rule of law. Doing these is a great way to weave British values into the fabric of the institution, and evidence-gathering for this would be quite simple and could satisfy much of the self-assessment tool’s directives.

What gets less attention though is how to meaningfully embed British values into the curriculum to help build resilience to extremism. In my experience, a nod is made to the values across curricula but not in a way which truly advances anti-extremism. For example, a teacher may embed into her curriculum the study of the The Equality Act (2010), potentially as it pertains to recruitment practices within the profession of study. This would provide pupils with a good working knowledge of individual liberty, the rule of law and tolerance. Yet, too often imparting the knowledge which underpins the values is where it starts and ends; for students to uphold British values, they need a forum to practise them – and indeed, challenge them.

The rule of law, for example, is a British value students would benefit from challenging at appropriate times in the curriculum. Not because we want to encourage lawless behaviour, but because the law itself is dynamic and evolves through the struggles of the democratic process. Also, uncritical deference to the law has not always, historically, helped shape a moral society. The Jim Crow laws in America were legal; apartheid in South Africa was legal.

Beyond this too, teachers should build into the curriculum episodes to experience the democratic process and not just learn about it. This can be as grand as visits off-site to relevant institutions, but it can be as simple as building in discussions of a controversial issue in a given subject area. Research by Jerome and Elwick found that teachers do facilitate difficult discussions in their classrooms but they often have the ‘correct’ answer in mind. This is unhelpful; students should debate an open issue and practise how to manage disagreement in respectful ways, and without being guided to an answer. See Diane Hess for pedagogical tools for facilitating discussions which advance democratic norms.

Therefore, to pursue a thick policy response to British values, there needs to be more than lip service to it in the curriculum. Moments to challenge the values, practise them and openly debate issues, all help to build resilience to extremism more effectively than just teaching the knowledge which underpins them (although this is important too). For the other requirements, a thick approach can be as simple as asking: is this enactment of the policy meaningful (- for learners, leaders, staff)?

Changes in the risk landscape

When self-assessing it is important to consider changes to the risk landscape, as this will inform the identification of gaps. For example, the requirement area of ‘Welfare and pastoral support’ is, in my opinion, only going to become more important post Covid-19. Safeguarding is already a robustly regulated area, but the most recent Ofsted annual report has highlighted specific challenges which are hangovers of the pandemic.

The report states that because of the pandemic, ‘a number of learners, particularly the youngest, had less confidence than previous learners. They found it harder to interact with peers and more difficult to focus. Their mental health and well-being were poorer.’ Whilst not all learners with safeguarding needs are a radicalisation risk, the venn diagram, cross-over of high welfare needs and vulnerability to radicalisation is recognised. The pandemic has meant learners are more isolated and frustrated, reducing the efficacy of their inoculation to extreme ideas. More worrying still, learners were on-site less and online more.

The report notes these ‘new and emerging’ online threats; you only have to look at the recent Andrew Tate saga to know that more and more boys and young men are being drawn into misogyny online, who otherwise might not have conceded to such messaging. Education practitioners continue to be ahead of the curve on this; anecdotally, teacher friends were warning me early on of the increasing popularity of nefarious, incel types. Whilst it is encouraging that practitioners continue to have their finger on the pulse, tech companies and legislation trail behind on protection measures. It rests with the education sector, rightly or wrongly, to prevent students being drawn in.

Dedicating time to nurturing positive relationships, and being role models for young people, is possibly the best antidote. It continues to be vital to get learners back onsite post-pandemic as doing this work requires face-to-face interaction. It is no easy task to do this in a sector under such strain, but if there is one thing teachers do impeccably, even when strapped for time and resources, it’s knowing their students and responding to their safeguarding needs.

For recommendations on how to build resilience to extremism in your teaching, please read this collaborative research I co-authored with colleagues at UCL’s Institute of Education (IOE): Addressing extremism through the classroom. The research focuses on secondary schools but the findings can be transferred to the FE sector.

Similarly, for support on how to manage conspiracy theories in the classroom, please read my co-authored: Conspiracy Theories in the Classroom: Guidance for teachers.

By Gemma Gronland, senior consultant at MH&A

Gemma Gronland is a senior consultant at MH&A, working with awarding organisations on qualification delivery and transformation. She is also a trained English teacher and lecturer at UCL’s Institute of Education. Here she teaches masters students modules on extremism and education.

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