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October 14, 2019
The Prevent Agenda and Religious Education – Rachel Cooper
The 2006 Labour Government introduced the Prevent Strategy (2006), as one element of their long term approach to tackling international extremism, known as Contest. Each consecutive update of Prevent has placed an increased duty on education to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Prevent identifies the adoption of extremist views as a precursor to being drawn into terrorism, with extremism identified as ‘…vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values.’ (2015, p. 2), placing a further responsibility onto teachers to ‘…actively promote Fundamental British Values.’ (ibid.).
My research focused on the influence that Prevent has exerted on the teaching of Religious Education. This is of particular relevance in light of the assertions that the discussion of controversial topics is the lifeblood of RE (CoRE, 2019), and the specific identification of RE as a focal point for the delivery of Prevent within governmental guidance (DCSF, 2008).
The data obtained from my study superficially suggested that Prevent (2015) has not influenced the teaching of secondary RE. All of the RE teachers who participated reported that they had not removed topics to be taught due to their controversial nature, and most had not reduced the level of classroom discussion. Additionally, evidence from some respondents suggested that they had increased the amount of discussion-based activities within their lessons.
However, the influence of Prevent may potentially be covert as most participants stated that they always offered the governmental view, identified as Fundamental British Values, within discussions, and referred pupils’ who shared views that could be considered extreme. Arguably, Prevent, both through its inclusion as a safeguarding duty (2019), and within the professional standards for teachers (Department for Education, 2013), removes the opportunity for teachers to engage critically (Elton-Chalcraf, et al., 2017). This could result in pupils only being presented with views aligned with Fundamental British Values, which although this may increase classroom discussion opportunities, supported by the participant responses and Prevent, it may be with surveillance. The surreptitious influence that Prevent may have on the RE clasroom could be difficult for teachers to acknowledge, and ultimately challenge, with teachers promoting a sanitised viewpoint which promotes assimilation rather than celebrating diversity.
If discussion became limited due to the influence of Prevent, this would be in direct opposition to the aims of RE, which are not to promote a dominant worldview but to challenge (O'Donnell, 2017), understand and enable pupils to personally edify (Jackson, 2019). For RE teachers, there appears to be a need to engage with controversial topics in a safe classroom environment. The opportunity to provide counter arguments to all controversial topics is crucial, but this must include terrorism and extremist views. Pupils must be able to explore their own views openly, and consider all points of view. If discussion is closed down, or reporting is feared, pupils may not engage and the possibility of hearing a different perspective may be lost. Arguably, Fundamental British Values and Prevent has influenced the secondary RE classroom by creating a panopticon (Foucault, 2008) rather than a safe space for discussion.