The Prevent Duty in Schools

Michael Evans considers the revised Prevent guidance for England and Wales that was issued in April 2021 and the ‘Prevent Duty’ that is placed on schools to safeguard pupils from radicalism and being drawn into terrorism.

What is the Government Prevent Strategy?

Counter terrorism is the responsibility of the UK Government, and its Prevent strategy was published in 2011 as part of its overall counter-terrorism strategy. Quite simply, its overriding aim is to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.

The three strategic objectives are:

  1. to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat that is faced from those who promote it

  2. to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and to ensure that they receive appropriate guidance and support

  3. to work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation that need to be addressed.

Section 26 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 places a duty on certain bodies, such as schools, to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.

What is terrorism?

Terrorism is defined in the Terrorism Act 2000 as the threat of action designed to:

  1. influence the Government or an international governmental organisation, or

  2. to intimidate the public or a section of the public.

This is usually for the purposes of advancing a political, religious, radical or ideological cause.

It can involve or cause:

  1. serious violence against a person or people

  2. serious damage to property

  3. a threat to the life of one person, or of many people

  4. serious interference with or disruption to an electronic system.

What is radicalisation?

The Government Prevent Strategy, June 2011 defines radicalism as the process by which a person comes to support terrorism, or forms of extremism that lead to terrorism.

What is extremism?

Terrorist groups often draw on ideology that has been developed by extremist organisations, and some members of terrorist groups have become radicalised during previous membership of an extremist organisation. Extremism is defined by the Government as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. It includes calls for the death of members of the armed forces, whether in the UK or overseas.

The Prevent strategy includes all forms of terrorism, together with non-violent extremism which can create an atmosphere to encourage views that can be exploited by terrorists. In order to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, it is necessary to challenge these extremist views when they are used to legitimise terrorism. It is therefore important to have interventions that will stop people moving from extremist groups into a terrorist-related activity.

What are the obligations of schools?

Within the terms of the Prevent Duty, the following educational and childcare authorities are included:

  • the proprietors of maintained schools, non-maintained special schools, maintained nursery schools, independent schools (including academies and free schools) and alternative provision academies

  • pupil referral units

  • registered early years childcare providers

  • registered later years childcare providers

  • providers of holiday schemes for disabled children.

These authorities are subject to a duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Non-violent extremism is included as well as violent extremism, since the non-violent type can create an atmosphere where views can be popularised that terrorists can then exploit.

Schools should always be safe places in which children and young people can understand and discuss sensitive topics. This will include issues relating to terrorism, and the extremist ideas that form a part of a terrorist ideology. It is important for pupils to understand ways in which these ideas might be challenged.

The Prevent duty is not intended to limit discussion of these issues. Schools should always deliver a balanced presentation of political issues and actively promote fundamental British values of democracy, rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect. At the same time, they must be mindful of the duty that specifically forbids political indoctrination.

Sections 406 and 407 of the Education Act 1996 impose these duties on maintained schools, while the Independent School Standards place similar duties on proprietors of independent schools and academies.

The need for a risk assessment

Schools and other specified authorities are expected to assess the risk of a young person being drawn into terrorism. This will include possible support for extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology. There is a need to demonstrate that robust safeguarding policies are in place that will identify children who are at risk from being drawn into terrorism, with appropriate interventions to be taken where necessary.

Where there are concerns, the school will need to consider the level of risk in order to make the most appropriate referral. This could be to Children’s Social Care or to Channel.


Channel is a multi-agency programme in England and Wales, that is designed to provide early intervention for those most at risk of being drawn into terrorism. Referrals can come from any organisation such as youth offending teams, social services, health, the police and schools, where there are concerns about individuals who may be vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism. It comprises a panel chaired by the local authority and includes those within the criminal justice system, education, and child and health providers. It is coordinated by the Channel Police Practitioner.

Participation in Channel is voluntary, and consent of a child’s parent or guardian is necessary before any measures may be put in place. Schools with particular safeguarding concerns with respect to radicalisation, should contact Children’s Services or the NSPCC. In the event of an immediate risk, the police should be contacted directly.


It should be realised that preventing a child from being drawn into terrorism is substantially comparable to other safeguarding issues such as child abuse and domestic violence.

Governing bodies and proprietors of all schools and registered childcare providers should ensure that their safeguarding arrangements take into account the policies and procedures of Local Safeguarding Children Boards in England or Local Service Boards in Wales.

Schools should ensure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children who might be at risk of being drawn into terrorism. They must be able to challenge extremist ideas shared by terrorist groups that can be used to legitimise terrorism.

Once a potentially serious situation has been identified, staff should be aware of where and how they can refer children and young people for further help.


  • Prevent is part of the Government’s overall counter-terrorism strategy. Terrorism involves violent intimidating action designed to advance a political, religious, radical or ideological cause. Radicalism is the process by which a person comes to support terrorism. Extremism is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values.

  • The Prevent Duty places a duty on schools to promote British values and prevent children and young people from being drawn into terrorism.

  • Preventing a child from being drawn into terrorism is akin to other safeguarding issues such as child abuse or domestic violence, and schools must have robust safeguarding policies in place to identify children who are at risk.

  • Staff training should ensure that children at risk can be rapidly identified allowing for appropriate action to be taken.