The Threat of Extremism – Duty of Care and the Latest Scare
Solicitor Sarah Dodds discusses extremism and how it should be approached like any other safeguarding concern.
Following the Trojan horse investigation earlier in the year, the threat of extremism in schools has again made the headlines. This time the Sir John Cass Foundation and Red Coat Church of England secondary school (‘John Cass’) was downgraded from outstanding to inadequate by Ofsted following concerns surrounding safeguarding and the infiltration of extreme religious views at the school. Despite the media uproar and the political backlash, the need to protect students from potential harm is nothing new. It has long been established that schools owe its pupils a duty of care and are obligated to put safeguarding in place. Extremism may be a difficult and contentious issue to tackle, but essentially it can and should be approached like any other safeguarding concern.
The inspection of John Cass was carried out under Section 8 of the Education Act 2005; and was carried out without notice. The inspection forms part of a programme of snap inspections that have been carried out in the wake of the Trojan horse scandal. Seven schools in Tower Hamlets were subject to no notice inspections, the majority being independent Muslim faith schools. However, it was the state funded Church of England school John Cass that has commanded the most media attention. Specifically, at John Cass concerns were reported to the police that a Facebook page bearing the name of a school sixth form society contained links to individuals associated with extremism. There were also posts on the site which prompted concern. For instance, a post urging sixth form students not to attend a ‘leavers’ function at the school, inferring that it was inappropriate. The Ofsted report confirms that inadequate action was taken upon the discovery of the webpages and that ‘the school has not put in place steps to ensure that students, staff and governors understand the risks posed by extremism.’¹ The school is now in special measures and under close scrutiny.
There has been a swift political response to concerns about extremism in schools. Only days after the John Cass inspection was made public the DfE published guidance on how maintained schools should promote ‘British values’ (simultaneous guidance was published for independent schools). As the guidance explains promoting values means ‘challenging opinions or behaviours in school that are contrary to fundamental British values’.² The idea of promoting community values and respect within the school environment is nothing new. The government has previously stated in its ‘Prevent’ guidance that ‘all schools are required by law to teach a broad and balanced curriculum which promotes the spiritual, moral and cultural development of pupils and prepares them for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of life. Publicly funded schools are required to promote community cohesion, a duty first introduced through the Education and Inspections Act 2006.’³ However there has been a shift moving from a duty to ‘respect’ British values and promoting ‘cohesion’ to the requirement of ‘promoting’ British values. Despite this shift, the pragmatic advice in the circumstances seems to be that given by Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, who responded to the new guidance by stating that the majority of schools will be already be complaint and his advice to schools is ‘don’t do anything new, make sure you capture and describe the good work you are already doing.’
Despite the complex political, religious and cultural views that surround this issue, one thing is clear, ensure proper safeguarding is in place and problems are unlikely to arise. One of the things that Ofsted criticised John Cass for was neither updating nor properly implementing its safeguarding procedures. Whether a school is maintained, independent or an academy what is key is that it is up to date and compliant with safeguarding requirements. The threat of extremism should be built into those policies and procedures like any other area of concern. It should be clear within school how procedures work and who is responsible for what. Staff should be trained in how to respond to safeguarding issues and know what action to take and who to report concerns to. Many schools will already be compliant, but should you require any advice on safeguarding issues, or want assistance amending your policies and procedures please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Education Law team on 01228 552222 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
¹Ofsted | Sir John Cass Foundation and Redcoat Church of England Secondary School ²https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380595/SMSC_Guidance_Maintained_Schools.pdf
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Published: Monday 12th January 2015