Teachers warn that extremism fears stifle open debate – BBC News

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Image caption Teachers fear the loss of a “spirit of openness” in how students can talk about ideas

Teachers will warn later that anti-extremism strategies are stifling free speech and stopping students from debating “challenging” ideas.

The National Union of Teachers conference is to vote on calls for the government’s Prevent strategy no longer to apply to schools and colleges.

Delegates will argue that it threatens a “spirit of openness” in schools.

The Department for Education says it “makes no apology” for protecting young people from extremism.

The NUT’s annual conference in Brighton will hear warnings that counter-radicalisation policies are having the unintended consequence of stopping teachers talking about “challenging ideas” with their pupils.

‘Critical thinking’

Fears over anti-extremism measures are threatening to “close down space for open discussion in a safe and secure environment”, the conference will hear.

There will also be claims that Muslim pupils can be unfairly targeted.

The conference will debate proposals to call on the government to withdraw the Prevent strategy for schools and to develop an alternative approach to safeguarding.

Delegates will hear warnings that schools are being discouraged from allowing pupils to debate controversial ideas and to develop their own “critical thinking skills”.

Teachers will say they have lost confidence in being able to talk about topical issues and that this could “smother” the discussion of legitimate political opinions.

And they say that pupils should not be afraid that they could be reported for giving their viewpoints in a school debate.

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Image caption NUT delegates say Muslim pupils can be unfairly targeted

‘Resilience’

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, introduced last year, places a legal duty on schools to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

It followed fears about young people being radicalised in schools and colleges, after some young people disappeared to Syria or joined extremist groups.

When the legislation came into force, NUT leader Christine Blower said: “Teachers cannot be turned into spies in the classroom.”

The government has said that Prevent does not inhibit open debate and discussion, but provides the “resilience” for them to challenge extremism arguments.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “We make no apology for protecting children and young people from the risks of extremism and radicalisation.

“Prevent is playing a key role in identifying children at risk of radicalisation and supporting schools to intervene.

“Good schools will already have been safeguarding children from extremism and promoting fundamental British values long before this duty came into force.”

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-35907831