From education to employment

Denmark offers some radical solutions!

Amid all the challenges of the new academic year, there is one new responsibility likely to continue to sit slightly uneasily with college principals and head teachers. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which came into force over the summer, puts a new statutory duty on academic institutions to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. The Act introduced the Prevent Duty for all FE colleges, adult education providers and independent learning providers with SFA funding, or with over 250 students enrolled. Ofsted are already including an assessment of its implementation in their inspections, which includes an obligation for staff to be Prevent Duty trained.

The agenda has been fuelled by a number of high profile cases, including the so-called Trojan horse case, an alleged plot by hard-line Islamists to take over a number of schools in Birmingham in 2014. The case of Talha Asmal from Dewsbury, reportedly the youngest British Muslim to die in a suicide bombing earlier this year at just 17 years old, is similarly just one of several examples of young people being swayed to travel to Syria and Iraq to fight for extremist causes.

But what can traditional learning institutions really do to deliver a genuine impact on such a culturally sensitive aspect of educational life? In some communities the Prevent Duty is perceived as an unwelcome and unnecessary form of “spying” on learners. Similarly, can we really expect teachers and trainers to be experts in spotting and acting upon genuine radicalisation traits amongst learners? Whilst there are sources of help available (the EFA’s website contains some useful material), best practice in this field is still emerging.

A source of potential inspiration comes from a seemingly unlikely destination – the city of Aarhus in Denmark. It is claimed that over 30 young people travelled to Syria from Aarhus in 2013 but, following the introduction of the “Aarhus Model”, only 3 are reported to have attempted the same since then. The success cannot be attributed to a singular magic solution. It is instead borne out of a working co-operation between the local authority, the police, university, probation services, as well as the local Muslim community itself. The model offers a mix of mentoring and counselling to help participants consider their life choices and to re-integrate with education and employment.

It will be fascinating to see Ofsted’s early assessment findings of how inspected institutions have handled the Prevent Duty. In this respect, preventing radicalisation would not seem to be solved by providing teachers with covert surveillance skills, implementing convoluted diagnostics to score those “at risk”, or developing potentially patronising programmes on how to be “more British”. Instead, it seems more about the application of considered safeguarding processes, a pragmatic eye for genuinely disturbing behaviours, an open dialogue between teachers and other agencies, and a focus on building stable and rewarding educational and vocational pathways for learners.

Jim Carley is Managing Director of Carley Consult, a specialist business development agency supporting the skills and employability sectors

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