Extreme views are “widespread” in classrooms in England, major new study finds

Schools across England lack the resources and training to teach pupils how to reject and discuss dangerous extremist views and ideologies according to a new study.

09/09/21

Extreme views are “widespread” in classrooms in England, major new study finds

New research, published just days before the 20th anniversary of 9/11, reveals that extreme views such as racism, misogyny and homophobia are widespread in classrooms across the country.

The Addressing Extremism Through the Classroom report, co-authored by a team of academics from the Institute of Education (IOE) at University College London found that teachers are not being given the time, training or resources to teach pupils about violent and ‘hateful’ extremism and that schools believe instead that the Government expects them to focus on seeking out and reporting pupils who are thought to be at risk of radicalisation.

Authors note that the findings come amid warnings from police of a rise in the number of children being radicalised by neo-Nazi and other extremist groups. The report not only looks at violent extremism but ‘hateful extremism’ – including homophobic, misogynistic and racist attitudes and behaviours.

The study found that due to an already crammed curriculum, teaching about extremism in UK schools is "highly variable", and in some cases "superficial" and "tokenistic".

The study argues that while much anti-extremism work in schools is "well-meaning", it is "stymied by overcrowded curricula, a lack of resources, a desire to perform policy for Ofsted and a mandate to detect and report vulnerability to radicalisation rather than necessarily stamp out its root causes.”

As part of the study, the researchers talked to 96 teachers in schools in England. Teachers expressed concern at the rise in pupils looking at hateful content online. More than half the teachers had heard pupils express far-right extremist views in their classroom, while around three-quarters had heard “extremist views about women” or Islamophobia. Almost 90% had heard conspiracy theories, such as that American business magnate Bill Gates “controlled people via microchips in COVID vaccines”.

The study also found that many teachers do not talk about extreme views in the classroom out of fear that they will “get it ‘wrong’, especially on matters related to race”. Overall, nearly all teachers reported feeling at least ‘somewhat confident’ in dealing with extreme views when encountered, however, a fifth of teachers felt only ‘somewhat’ or ‘not at all’ confident in dealing with conspiracy theories and far-right extremism.

One teacher said they felt the Government saw their role, in terms of teaching about extremism, as that of a "babysitter" and said they were encouraged to use "pre-prepared scripts" rather than their teaching skills when talking about extremism with pupils.

Dr Becky Taylor, from the Centre for Teachers and Teaching Research, said the report shows that some schools fail to move beyond surface-level explorations of violence, extremism and radicalisation.

“In addition to having set policies and programmes designed to address discrimination, many schools already have supplementary messaging in schools and classrooms to enhance students’ resilience and self-confidence. Education policies must consider the fact that some schools may need more help than others to build on what they already have in place.

“Engaging well with their local communities and ensuring that schools and teachers are supported and appropriately resourced can help young people to problematise ‘hateful extremism’.

“We are convinced that teachers need to be able to bring their own pedagogical expertise to the classroom, enhanced through appropriate professional development, to ensure their classrooms are safe environments for open discussion.”

Kamal Hanif, a trustee of SINCE 9/11 and an expert on preventing violent extremism in schools, said the research is a ‘wake up call’.

“We must make sure that every pupil is taught how to reject extremist beliefs and ideologies. We urgently need to equip schools with the tools to teach pupils how to reject extremist views. Dangerous ideologies must never be swept under the carpet.

“We know that right now, extremists are trying to lure young people into a world of hatred and violence, both online and in person. We must use the power of education to fight back and help young people stand up and reject extremism and violence. We need far more clarity from Government about the need to have time in the curriculum for frank and open discussions about extremism.”

The study calls for teachers to be given better training to lead frank and open discussions in the classroom about extremism so that they can teach pupils how to reject - and respond to - dangerous ideologies.

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