In the wake of the Manchester Arena suicide bombing a few years ago, the former Daily Mirror editor and celebrity (?) Piers Morgan called on the ‘Muslim community’ (whatever that is) to do more to alert the police and security services to extremists within their midst.
My initial reaction to this was: “Why does Piers Morgan think that the ‘Muslim community’ isn't already doing that?”
Indeed, it has now emerged that members of the Libyan community living in Manchester – perhaps encouraged by the Prevent Duty - but probably more out of having a simple, moral and social conscience, had reported Salman Abede to the police and security services on at least three occasions in the previous two years because they were concerned about his behaviour, his associations and his bizarre protestations.
MI5 mounted an enquiry about what was done to respond to those concerns. Sadly, it seems – it was not enough. It is easy to criticize people doing an extremely complex job with limited resources. Ask anyone who’s a teacher! It seems to me the problem we have as teachers is not dissimilar to that of MI5. What are we supposed to do when pupils, colleagues and even parents come to us with concerns that one of their friends, students or children is behaving strangely? What do we do when a student suddenly starts expressing extreme religious beliefs, shows an unhealthy interest in violent or extreme ideology or expresses opinions that advocate violent extremism?
Many people have been critical of applying the Prevent Duty of ‘Notice, Check, Share’ because it ‘targets and victimizes the Muslim community’. Some – including politicians like Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham - have even branded it as ‘toxic.’ Some teacher unions have rejected it as a cack-handed blunt instrument that puts teachers in the invidious position of snooping on their students.
Do teachers not have a role in safeguarding young people?
To me, the role of teachers in relation alerting authorities to the dangers of students being drawn into violent extremism is no different than if those students were in danger of being drawn into sexual exploitation or drug gangs.
If you saw for example, a fourteen-year old female student from your school behaving precociously with, let’s say a mini-cab driver, and seemingly accepting an invitation to get into the car of an older man whom you knew was not a relative, would you not think that was a matter of concern?
If some students told you that another student had brought a knife into school or had possession of illegal drugs, would you not think that was a matter on which to take immediate, direct action?
I hope you would - because it's your duty of care to do so. I also hope you would not think that simply to notice something untoward was ‘targeting a community’ or ‘snooping’ on the private life of a student.
If you see or hear something you’re not happy with you would obviously check that what you saw had some credence. You might want to check with the student themselves if you have a close relationship with them, or check with a colleague who knows them better or check with their friends or check with their parents that what you have seen or heard is not untoward.
Of course, you may have got the wrong end of the stick. But you might not have.
If your concerns are not allayed or explained, you will want to share them with other colleagues, possibly share them with your colleague who is trained and designated for safeguarding, who may be able to provide more information or a more nuanced assessment of what you have heard or seen.
Surely - to notice, check, share is not to target, victimise or snoop. It is the professional role of a responsible teacher applying a duty of care.
Our role is to be in loco parentis– ‘in place of the parent.’ All our actions as teachers are judged – by law – as if we are a responsible parent.
If you have any doubt about applying the Prevent Duty to any given situation – think about what ‘a responsible parent’ would do in that situation.
Then you have your answer.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and headteacher in London for over 20 years and then for a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures on teaching professionalism and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk or book him for a talk. His book “Working in Teaching” (Crimson Publishing) was published in March 2014.