The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Abi Clay

Prevent: a year in review

As we reach the end of the first year since the introduction of the Prevent duty, it is time to review the lessons learned and consider the changing landscape of expectations.

For me and many colleagues across the country, inclusion of Prevent as part of the counter-extremism strategy and associated duty did not begin in July 2015.

My first Channel referrals were many years ago, and they focused on far-right extremists and animal rights extremists. At that time, I worked with police officers and social care workers to find a positive way forward in terms of support and response for the two young men concerned.

The outcomes were very positive; no headlines, no arrests, no fuss.

However, from my contact with almost one thousand colleagues within schools, colleges and universities over the last year, it’s clear that their experiences haven’t always been as positive.

New challenges

I have spent the last year supporting colleagues from independent, special and maintained schools, academies, private training providers, general FE colleges and universities. Perceptions of the Prevent duty and its significance vary wildly, most often according to a school’s location and demographic makeup.

One year on, and the need for the Prevent duty is greater than ever.

For example, those institutions not initially identified as ‘priority’ areas for Prevent were introduced to a concept which was fairly alien to them. Given that the emphasis was firmly on Islamic fundamentalism, schools and colleges in which there were few, if any, Muslim students found it difficult to see any relevance.

On paper, the Prevent strategy and associated duty is very clear that this is an ideologically neutral strategy and all aspects of extremism were included. In reality, reported incidents of extremist activity, in the UK and elsewhere, have predominantly concerned Islamic extremism.

A recent report from the BBC acknowledges that there is ‘currently no useable legal definition of extremism.’ The report goes on to stress ‘the need to have a clear distinction between extremism and religious conservatism’. While the definition with the Prevent duty stands, it is important to never leave an assumption in the air that everyone understands what you mean by the term.  

Recent incidents in the UK, and elsewhere in the world, have shown that a far-right extremist movement is gaining ground. Unspeakable crimes have pushed the debate beyond a narrow view of extremism, and we have to consider what impact this could have for all young people.

The tragic murder of Jo Cox MP reflects a rise in ‘lone wolf’ attacks that seem to lack any obvious ideological motivation. In the immediate aftermath of Mrs Cox's death, I was disappointed to see mental health factors being alleged as a possible cause. I am not a psychologist, but I would think it is fairly safe to assume that in all incidents of violent terrorism, no matter the ‘motive’, there is likely to be an underlying mental health issue. To suggest this is the only reason, however, would detract from the opportunity to explore the driving forces beyond faith, forces which may inspire people to commit such heinous acts. 

The concept of the ‘lone wolf’ is well documented by Dr Paul Jackson in The Extreme Right Myth of the Lone Wolf. He explains that the concept originated in neo-Nazi methods of violence.

Even seemingly ‘lone wolf’ activists have contact and support from others to inform and support their actions. With over one hundred identifiable right-wing extremist groups in the UK, this concept is something which definitely sits within the parameters of the Prevent duty.

Ofsted evaluation

In a recently-published report, Ofsted have evaluated the implementation of Prevent in its first year. The focus of the report is the Further Education and Skills Sector (FE providers) but the lessons learned can be useful beyond that specific sector. The report includes case studies (positive and negative) from various providers. The survey undertaken by Ofsted focused on:

  • visiting speakers
  • partnerships
  • risk assessments
  • IT
  • staff training.

The key findings show most of the providers visited had implemented the duty well, the general exceptions being private and independent providers.

Unsurprisingly, where the duty was taken seriously, providers went beyond compliance to a significant understanding of the broader aspects of the duty and utilised external partnerships well to enhance awareness of issues, local risk and available support.

Staff training

A key concern was the increasing reliance on online training packages (good though some of them are) as a ‘cut-and-dry’ approach to meeting training needs.

As we know from other safeguarding developments, there is always a minimum knowledge requirement for all staff, followed by enhanced awareness and understanding for DSLs and other relevant staff. My understanding is that it is the latter which is missing in some places.

Visiting speakers

Managing visiting speakers was identified as a weakness in around a quarter of the providers surveyed. From my experience this continues to be an issue which vexes many schools, colleges and especially universities. With this in mind, I've put together a checklist of precautions to take when arranging speaker visits. 


As with any form of safeguarding, partnerships are essential. We must always remember that they are ‘partnerships’ and that our skills, knowledge and experience are vital to the complete intelligence gathering in order to make considered, child-centred and supportive recommendations for action. 

IT monitoring

Renewed emphasis placed on IT by the updated KCSIE guidance encourages us to recognise the inclusion of ‘monitoring’ as well as filtering. There are many guides to developing IT policies, including ‘Acceptable Use’ policies, and it is timely to review these to ensure they are supporting all aspects of the requirements of KCSIE. 

I’m sure my Facebook feed is the same as many of yours, and is at times inundated with messages of condolence, desperation to understand acts of terror and barbarism.

It is difficult to remember a time where such chaos wasn’t an everyday occurrence somewhere in the world. While we would never be complacent about such atrocities, we may not always comprehend the potential impact on our young people.

We should always be vigilant, particularly when it comes to IT use – are they chasing Pokémon, or are they being seduced by messages of hate? 

Don't be complacent!

One year on, and the need for the Prevent duty is greater than ever. My recommendation: don’t assume that if your risk assessment and action plan are complete, you can consider your responsibilities fulfilled.

Review your policies, your staff training, your partnerships and ask for help where needed.

Use our 'Prevent toolkit' to ensure you have everything in place to prevent radicalisation and extremism in your school. 

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