Where next for the counter-#Prevent movement?

The latest referral figures for Prevent, reported in the Times (21 June 2016, p.4, paywall), raise strategic concerns for the counter-Prevent movement. To summarise the figures from the report:

In the last year (the calendar year of 2015?), referral figures were:
1,041 from schools, that’s five a day in the 190-day school year. This is compared to nine referrals in 2012, the first year of its national roll-out.
284 from local authorities through departments involved with housing, social care, children’s safeguarding, adult’s safeguarding, youth offending teams and youth workers.
228 from the health service.
180 from FE colleges, compared with five in 2012.
76 from HE institutions like universities.
1,809 in total

Some general observations are in order here.

Firstly, besides knowing the scale of referrals, we don’t know what the referral rejection rate from Channel panels is (a rather crucial figure, given that it has been 80% in previous years), and what kinds of interventions were stipulated by Channel panels for those referrals that were taken further. Many media outlets have simply and quite perniciously reported rising referral rates as evidence of increased radicalisation, when it far more plausibly linked to the policy’s new statutory status from 2015 onward. This is unacceptable and needs to be robustly challenged as it ignores the massive over-reporting that is one of the chief problems with the Prevent policy today.

The fact that 80% of referrals are rejected by Channel alongside the pernicious impact of over-referring must be consistently highlighted.

Poor, rushed and often cursory training based on a risk-factors model (the ERG 22+) that allows for a great deal of subjectivity has clearly led to many wrongful judgements being made, thereby feeding alienation, an outcome that runs directly counter to the aims of the policy itself. To date, no one in the Prevent industry or the government has properly acknowledged the problem of massive over-referring. These legitimate concerns keep getting summarily dismissed with what already sound like hackneyed soundbites about the need for safeguarding.

The figures show that the counter-Prevent movement has arguably been at its most successful in limiting referrals on campuses.

Secondly, the counter-Prevent movement, which it should be constantly reiterated supports the principle of prevention but opposes the pernicious effects of the current Prevent policy, has grown in size, diversity and confidence over the last year. The opposition has been both sectorial or community-based. Notably the National Union of Students and the University College Union have been very active, organising a national tour across campuses, as well as the first significant national conference this month that brought the whole counter-Prevent movement together. It is reasonable to hypothesise that the low referral figures from HE institutions last year could partly be read as an outcome of the high-energy campaigning on campuses.

Schools should become the primary if not sole focus of the counter-Prevent movement, as more than half of all referrals come from them.

Thirdly, strategically speaking, as more than half of referrals are made from schools, I would argue that Prevent in schools should now become the primary if not sole focus for the counter-Prevent movement. Referrals in schools has been among the most controversial parts of the policy, with a number of high-profile stories in the press about wrongful referrals. The National Union of Teachers took a clear stand against Prevent in the last year, but the other teaching unions have been either been more circumspect or more fully on-board with Prevent. A number of local parents’ or community groups have sprung up around the country, especially in north and east London, Luton, Birmingham and Bradford, which have made links with the NUT and some London-based advocacy NGOs. They have made progress in highlighting some malpractice in Prevent in schools but clearly there is still a mountain to climb with regard to Prevent in schools. It is widely appreciated that — given perennial issues around child vulnerability, consent and safety — this is trickier and more delicate terrain that needs to be carefully navigated.

More attention is needed to deal with the almost 40% of referrals that come from the health service, FE colleges and local government.

Fourthly, nearly 40% of referrals have come from, in terms of political visibility, relatively lower profile sectors affected by Prevent like the health service, FE colleges and directly from local government through departments like youth services. Clearly more specialised attention will be needed here too to deal with the complexities that emerge from the distinctive nature of each sector, even if some of the overarching issues with Prevent remain the same across the board.

Cross-party consensus on Prevent has broken for the first time since the policy’s inception in 2003, and it is a strategic goal of the counter-Prevent movement to support Labour, the Greens and others who have now taken a principled stand against the policy.

Finally, on the day before the EU referendum, it should be noted that, while a Remain win will not alter the status quo, a Leave victory would most likely have a huge impact on the Prevent policy as elsewhere. In the event of a Leave-takeover of the Tory party after a Cameron resignation, a hardening of the Prevent policy under a BoJo-Gove leadership is to be expected. It is very important in this regard that Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary has recently called for Prevent to be scrapped and for a new prevention policy to be put in its place, pending recommendations from a cross-party review. This is significant because it is the first time that the cross-party consensus on Prevent has broken since the policy’s inception in 2003. Labour is joined by the Greens and in certain aspects the Liberal Democrats, and so deepening and strengthening this principled opposition should be another strategic priority of the counter-Prevent movement going forward.

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