Prevent Duty Changes December 2023
In this article, Sara Spinks reflects on the pathway of the Prevent strategy and the impact of the new revisions.
The Labour government introduced the Prevent strategy in 2006 as part of the counter-terrorism strategy called CONTEST. From its inception, this strategy has been troubled by negative press, inconsistent application, and allegations of fundamental flaws in the system, including discriminatory decision-making that operates on a 'gut feeling' basis.
Subsequent governments have maintained this strategy with some ongoing revisions to reflect the parameters related to international terrorism threats of the time, including a revision in 2011 to deal with all forms of terrorism and non-violent extremism.
The HM Government commissioned a long overdue independent review in January 2021, led by William Shawcross. His 34 recommendations for change were published in Feb 2023 and accepted by the HM Government, which published a response to each one on how this improvement would be carried out.
The Independent Review of Prevent called for a stronger, more transparent, and proportionate approach to stopping people from being radicalised into becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism and makes it clear that Prevent needs to refocus on its core mission of stopping people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. This includes Prevent placing greater emphasis on tackling ideology and its radicalising effects rather than attempting to go beyond its remit to address broader societal issues such as mental health.
Consequently, the new Prevent statutory guidance was published on Sept 7, 2023, and comes into force on Dec 31, 2023.
So, what are the recommendations and the government's response that will directly impact Prevent work and actions in schools?
- Recommendation 1:
- Develop mandatory ideology training for all frontline sectors under the Prevent Duty to 'tackle the ideological causes of terrorism'. The government responded by stating that new training will be developed to ensure a better understanding of ideology across Prevent teams. It will also review its wider training to ensure it aligns with the findings of the Independent Review.
- Recommendation 2:
- Clarify the distinction between the terms 'vulnerability' and 'susceptibility' in guidance and practice. The term 'susceptibility' is to be used for radicalisation and terrorism-related concerns, whereas the term 'vulnerability' is used for welfare issues. Staff should adopt this terminology, such as when making referrals. The Prevent Assessment Framework will replace the Vulnerability Assessment Framework, aligning with these distinctions.
- Recommendation 3:
- Acknowledges the inconsistency in current Prevent thresholds across ideologies. Each stage of Prevent delivery should be reviewed - identification, assessment, prioritisation, and decision-making at national, regional, and local levels. Training and support for Prevent leads should be provided in every statutory sector. The Prevent Assessment Framework should be enhanced with clearer criteria for Channel intervention decisions, enforcing consistency in the referral processes, Channel case management, national/local delivery, and ensuring proportionate and uniform thresholds for all ideologies.
- Recommendation 11:
- Implementing this recommendation involves transitioning to a regional Prevent delivery model under direct Home Office oversight. This approach should foster collaboration with Counter Terrorism Policing and regional partners, ensuring local authorities receive expert Prevent support from Home Office regional advisers. This should enable resources to surge to address radicalisation risks in specific areas and establish a unified platform for local Prevent practitioners to access guidance, advice, and best practices. There should be regular briefings on the national and regional extremist threat, which enhances awareness and provides a consistent understanding of risks for Prevent partners in health, education, policing, and counter-extremism.
- Recommendation 15:
- Enhance Prevent's effectiveness by establishing robust referral pathways and introducing a National Prevent Referral form for consistent information sharing. Acceptance of this recommendation emphasises the need for high-quality referrals, aligning with Prevent's core objective of preventing individuals from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Referrals should focus on genuine concerns of radicalisation, emphasising ideology - communication through various channels, including Prevent Duty Guidance and GOV.UK will underscore these criteria, supported by new training products. This approach ensures that Channel support is directed toward individuals with clear radicalisation concerns and terrorism-related risks. The implementation should include improved information sharing and a national referral form for enhanced consistency and data quality. An upgraded Prevent case management system will consistently record ideology and risk nature across different ideologies, reflected in updated training for relevant staff.
- Recommendation 16:
- Enhancement of the referral categorisations, particularly addressing the 'Mixed, Unclear, and Unstable' category. This recommendation recognises the need for improvement and aims to rectify potential misuse of the category, which may lead to unnecessary referrals outside the counter-terrorism scope. Independent research is underway to analyse cases within this category, refining their alignment with Prevent objectives and the national threat landscape. Commitment is also made to enhance data breakdown in annual Prevent statistics, offering more transparency by providing detailed insights into the 'Mixed, Unclear, and Unstable' and 'Other' categories for public understanding.
- Recommendation 17:
- Develop public education resources on Prevent, emphasising recognition of radicalisation signs and avenues for support. This involves testing and refining an accessible GOV.UK resource, complemented by the Counter Terrorism Police's Act Early campaign. Additionally, there will be enhanced collaboration with non-statutory partners, the third sector, and communities to raise awareness about identifying radicalisation signs and accessing support through charities and community groups.
- Recommendation 22:
- Launch updated training packages on GOV.UK for Prevent awareness, referrals, Channel, and introduce a new face-to-face training course for public sector workers in 2023.
- Recommendation 24:
- Revise the Prevent Duty Guidance to enhance practitioner confidence in identifying and reporting concerns, ensuring informed referral decisions. This acknowledges the significance of effective Prevent training to enable users to make appropriate referrals. The updated guidance will focus on boosting practitioners' confidence in recognising and reporting concerns and making informed referral decisions. A new face-to-face training package for frontline public sector workers will specifically address ideology and signs of radicalisation, tailoring content to the local threat and risk landscape.
- Recommendation 34:
- Establish an independent standards and compliance unit to address Prevent activity concerns. Acceptance of this recommendation commits to creating this unit, providing a clear route for the public and practitioners to report instances falling short of expected standards - the unit, publicised on GOV.UK will investigate with ministerial power, ensuring transparent findings publication while protecting anonymity.
What changes have already been delivered?
Since the publication of the Independent Review of Prevent in February 2023, the government have:
- Updated the Prevent duty guidance for the first time since 2015. The updated guidance aims to clarify that the programme's core mission is to tackle the ideological causes of terrorism. This was published on Sept 7, 2023, and comes into force on Dec 31, 2023.
- Introduced the new Security Threat Check to ensure decision-making is always informed by properly considering the current threat picture.
- Created updated training for public sector staff subject to the Prevent duty, including the addition of the Notice, Check, Share protocol for when there is a concern that someone might be at risk of becoming involved in terrorism. The DfE have also published new guidance (Sept 23) The prevent duty: safeguarding learners vulnerable to radicalisation, which includes The Prevent duty: an introduction for those with safeguarding responsibilities, understanding, and identifying radicalisation risk in your education setting, managing the risk of radicalisation in your education setting and case studies.
- Adapted Prevent's delivery model from a national to a regional delivery model, which aims to ensure support for all local authorities across England and Wales. The top twenty areas with the highest threat and risk ratings will receive multi-year funding, allowing ongoing stability in combatting local radicalisation risks.
- Established a Ministerial Prevent Oversight Board to provide scrutiny and independent oversight for the programme. Chaired by the Security Minister, it will oversee the implementation of the Independent Review of Prevent recommendations and the Prevent Standards and Compliance Unit.
- Strengthened due diligence checks on Civil Society Organisations to ensure targeted funding goes to those best equipped to disrupt terrorist ideology and not to work with or fund those who legitimise extremists under any circumstances.
- Recruited Specialist Intervention Providers to better address the Reviewer's concerns about the prevalence of antisemitism in Channel cases.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that Shawcross's recommendations are well placed to aim to make improvements in a system that Amnesty International calls 'fundamentally incompatible with human rights.
The purpose of the new Prevent guidance is to achieve a stronger, more transparent, and proportionate approach to prevent people from being radicalised into becoming terrorists by developing expertise, improving understanding of extremist ideology and radicalisation, enhancing the delivery process, establishing effective responses to disinformation, and building public trust through increased transparency and oversight. With the evolving picture of extremism for differing ideologies such as the growing prevalence of misogyny and Incels or the emerging issues such as the rise of antisemitism arising from the conflict in Gaza, there is definitely a need for a more responsive, proportionate system.
The question is, will this new guidance achieve this? The jury is still out, only time will tell.
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SSS Author & Former Headteacher