By Vito Matt
Building children’s resilience to radicalisation is part of the national Counter Terrorism Strategy (2011), further known as CONTEST, which aims at “reducing the threat to the UK from terrorism by stopping people becoming terrorist or being drawn into terrorism” (HM Government 2015) — and Prevent Duty is a key responsibility for the United Kingdom’s teachers.
The early years sector caters to the most vulnerable and the most impressionable members of British society, so the right understanding of the Prevent Duty is key. Teaching democracy and British Values to school children may seem easier than doing so for nursery children, so it is not a surprise that early years professionals, childminders and nursery workers are asking for clarification as to how they should interpret and implement this legislation.
Where to Begin
Building resilience to radicalisation from students’ early years is already embedded in the EYFS and constitutes part of the general safeguarding duty, and, in fact, it is not as daunting as it may seem to be. The key issue lies within a proper understanding of the radicalisation process and a precise knowledge of who might be vulnerable to it. That is why early years practitioners should receive relevant compulsory training on Prevent Duty to be able to recognise these vulnerabilities.
Early years practitioners need to help children develop self-confidence and positive attitudes such as open-mindedness, inclusive thinking, and distinguishing right from wrong. The key tool to achieving these attitudes is Positive Pedagogy, which already plays a central role in supporting children’s overall harmonious development throughout the entire Foundation Stage. When it comes to skills development, children need to be able, for example, to express their views, to work in partnerships with others, and to establish and maintain positive communication.
Promoting Resilience in Practice
Early years practitioners can take specific steps to make sure they promote children’s resilience and work in line with both the EYFS and the Prevent Duty requirements.
A confident child is a child who knows their limits, is able to recognise their feelings and emotions, and expresses their views without fear of being judged and rejected. To achieve this, practitioners should create a supportive environment in which every child is valued for who they are. This means respecting their individual needs and preferences, allowing them to explore their individuality by offering variety of activities and contexts, and making sure they can build their confidence by stretching their skills and taking reasonable risks.
Practitioners should always offer positive but constructive feedback and support all children no matter the situation. This is already required of practitioners under the EYFS guidelines and is part of Enabling Environments. However, to work in line with the Prevent Duty requirements, practitioners need to have a clear understanding of how building children’s confidence can prevent them from being radicalised and drawn into extremism.
Mixing and Sharing with Others
Children need to be able to build relationships at their own individual pace and in their own preferred way. To do so, the environment needs to offer plenty opportunities to interact with other children and adults. Although children attending an early years provision will already be part of the group, it is important to allow them to mingle with children of different ages, abilities, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, and with adults in general. This is particularly important for mono-ethnic provisions, which might face more difficult challenges trying to offer opportunities for inclusion and cultural exchange.
Organising outings will provide extra space for children to meet others and use their communication skills to initiate and maintain contacts, build new relationships, and to notice similarities and differences among people. It is important for children to grow in a multicultural and multiethnic environment, as this will help them appreciate and respect other people’s individuality.
Recognising Similarities, Differences Between Themselves and Others
It is important for children to be aware of their own cultural and ethic identity because it is part of who they are. At the same time, they should be offered opportunities to know and understand other cultures.
The easiest way to support this in an early years provision is by introducing certain routines that help children learn more about others around them. This can be done by regularly celebrating various religious festivals and cultural events in which all children are active participants. Such celebrations help create a spirit of unity and mutual understanding and protect children from developing discriminatory attitudes.
Visiting places of worship, reading multicultural books and offering multi-ethnic toys, music and food are the simplest and most effective tools for helping children become proud of their own roots, learning to value and respect the culture of others’, and challenging negative stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes.
Learning Right from Wrong
This one might seem the most challenging of all because different cultures have different values; what might seem right for us does not necessarily seem right to others. However, as United Kingdom is a democratic country, the society shares the same basic British Values which early years practitioners are expected to promote as part of their Prevent Duty.
The strongest emphasis will be put on respecting and valuing others, maintaining positive relationships, and not accepting verbal, emotional or physical abuse. Positive Pedagogy is the key for all early years practitioners – they need to be role models and demonstrate their own positive attitudes towards children, parents and other adults. Children need to be aware that working in partnerships, positive communication and mutual respect for others are the best ways to build and maintain positive relationships, and that any act of violence is never the solution. Thus, early years settings need to develop appropriate behaviour management policies that help to build children’s confidence and consideration to others, which again is required by Ofsted as part of the EYFS requirements.
Building children’s resilience to radicalisation is not as difficult as it may seem, and most early years partitioners are already doing it as part of the EYFS requirements. Effective Prevent Duty training should help practitioners understand vulnerabilities to radicalisation, the importance of prevent work, their role in reporting and referral, and why working in partnerships with other local agents is of highest importance. There are many in-class and e-learning providers widely available who cover this issue in full.
Revised Prevent Duty Guidance for England and Wales. HM Government, 2015
Counter-Extremism Strategy. HM Government, 2015