It’s not enough just to do the bare minimum, argues Sam Parrett, who believes colleges have a true duty of care
With all the dreadful terrorist attacks on British soil this year, there has never been a more important time for colleges to ensure they are implementing an effective Prevent strategy.
Ofsted, quite rightly, demands that educators must comply in full. However, like many of these initiatives and new policies, this sometimes creates a tick-box culture, with organisations doing the minimum to meet requirements.
There is a huge amount of pressure on the FE sector at the moment and we all struggle to keep our heads above water with so many priorities that all seem to be urgent.
But Prevent is an issue we can’t afford to brush under the carpet. Rather than seeing it as a standalone policy, colleges should look to embed it in all areas of college life, including teaching planning and delivery.
The duty was introduced in 2015 with the aim of giving “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. Colleges and independent learning providers have a huge responsibility here and are under scrutiny not only from Ofsted, but from local communities, parents and students.
By widely and regularly promoting the right kinds of values, our aim is to minimise the wrong ones
A safe learning environment is the one of the most important objectives for any college, but in the current climate this has to be our number one priority. We need robust, risk-assessed safeguarding policies for Prevent and British values. And what about the management and business continuity implications of a terrorist attack in one of our colleges? I am sure principals will all be revisiting these issues at the start of term.
Last year we undertook a large consultation exercise with students and staff to create a set of unique values, which are separate from but incorporate fundamental British values. We have collectively identified the fabric of our college, and we are building these values into every aspect of college life, into tutorials, pastoral support and our enrichment programme.
We took a multi-agency approach to this work and engaged our local communities. We also recruited a college chaplain who uses a wide range of theatrical and therapeutic approaches to encourage even the most reluctant of students into this process.
Our student experience team holds debates throughout the year in which students have the opportunity to voice their opinions, thoughts and concerns on various issues, ranging from ‘Are you a global citizen?’ to human rights.
We also arrange visits to various places of worship for a number of faiths, and students have the opportunity to come back to college and discuss their experiences and any thoughts arising from the visits.
By widely and regularly promoting the right kinds of values, our aim is to minimise the wrong ones. Rather than focusing on explicit messages relating to radicalisation, we are working hard to promote a positive and supportive environment. We are ambitious about this spiritual and social aspect of college life and we have recently become a UNICEF rights-respecting organisation, which is also underpinning our approach.
This goes beyond a tick-box exercise to meet Ofsted’s requirements, or indeed the tutorial system and our pastoral approaches to the SMSC curriculum. We are aware of our responsibility and want students to feel safe and supported in their learning environment, allowing them to achieve their full potential. We also want them to feel empowered about speaking out, to be able to challenge and be challenged, and we want to be clear about what is and is not acceptable.
We have a responsibility to support any student at risk of radicalisation whilst protecting others. We have a much better chance of doing this if every single student, tutor and staff member is part of a collective drive to tackle this issue effectively in an environment where interventions to support the prevent strategy are invisibly woven into the values and behaviours of everyday citizenship and college life.
Sam Parrett is CEO of London South East Colleges