LONDON (Reuters Life!) - British teachers are to be given guidelines on how to counter extremism among the young, with ministers saying they can play a vital role in tackling the problem.
“Learning together to be safe” toolkits, which will be made available to all primary and secondary schools, aims to show how teachers can prevent pupils being influenced by extremists by challenging and exposing flaws in their arguments.
The government says the kits will help fight al Qaeda and other hate or race-based prejudice.
“Dealing with violent extremism is nothing new for the UK and we have learnt from past experience that a security response is not enough,” Schools Secretary Ed Balls said.
“We need to address the underlying issues that can drive people into the hands of violent extremist groups.”
Balls said the toolkit was a response to feedback from teachers and others for more practical advice, as well as providing background information on the threat from extremist groups.
Teachers and unions welcomed the move, saying it was better to tackle extremism through debate and discussion.
“There is no quick fix but this toolkit will prove very helpful in tackling the complex issues facing all educational establishments and wider society,” said Peter Parker, headteacher of King David Primary School in Manchester.
Christine Blower, Acting General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said the threat from far right groups could be as serious as those from al Qaeda.
“For the objectives of government guidance to be achieved, trust has to be maintained in schools,” she said.
“No teacher will ignore obvious information about a specific, real threat, but it is vital that teachers are able to discuss with and listen to pupils, without feeling that they have to report every word.”
Anthony Glees, a security and intelligence expert at the University of Buckingham, said it was important that the government recognize that teachers and pupils need to be alerted to the threat of radicalization.
But Glees, who has long argued that Islamist extremists prey upon educational establishments, said the government had made concessions on promoting British values and identity.
“It’s saying your religion can define your identity and I think that ultimately presents us with a security risk,” he told BBC radio.
Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato