Prevent This

Why did British counter-extremism authorities tell a London primary school that “it would be best to ignore” my freedom of information request? I’ve asked local council

Earlier this year I blogged about Bevington Primary School, whose head teacher sent a letter that appeared to threaten to report a Muslim father to counter-extremism authorities because he asked that his child be removed from Christmas assembly, and because he was allegedly “rude and aggressive” towards staff at the school.

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The school refused my request for comment, so in January I filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for correspondence between head teacher Karen Matthews and local counter-extremism authorities.

E-mails obtained via my request show that Matthews contacted Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Prevent education officer Jake Butterworth for advice after a redacted version of the letter was published on the Islam21c website in late December 2016.

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Under the UK government’s controversial Prevent strategy, schools are legally required to “protect children from the risk of radicalisation” and “to report suspicious behaviour.”

During their correspondence, Matthews asked Butterworth about how to respond to my request. In his response, Butterworth told Matthews that “ideally it would be best to ignore this request so this unpleasant and incorrect story goes away,” but that he didn’t want the school “in trouble with the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office].”

When asked why he would’ve preferred had Matthews ignored my request, Butterworth said his e-mail to Matthews “clearly states that the FOI request should be responded to,” and that “the information has subsequently been released by the school.

When I again asked Butterworth to clarify what he meant by “ideally it would be best to ignore” my request, I didn’t receive a reply.

I’ve asked Hammersmith and Fulham Council if it subscribes to the view that “ideally it would be best” for schools and other public bodies to ignore FOI requests, but for the legal requirements enforced by the ICO; and if, given the lack of transparency around Prevent, the council believes that Butterworth’s advice about this matter was good advice.

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Educating Against Extremism

Why did the head teacher of a UK primary school threaten to report a Muslim parent to counter-terrorism authorities? I’ve asked the school for comment [Updated: Bevington Primary School has denied my request for comment – more after the jump]

Via the pro-civil liberties Coolness of Hind blog last month, the parent (name redacted) received a threatening letter from the head teacher of a London primary school after he requested that his child be removed from Christmas assembly.

The December 12, 2016 letter, via the Coolness of Hind blog (source)

As seen above, the letter claims the parent had “expressed views that do not match the vision and values of the school,and that unless he changed his “tone when speaking to members of staff, it would “have no other alternative but to refer the matter to the authorities.

From the logo on the letterhead, it appears that the letter is likely from Bevington Primary School, a multi-cultural school located in Ladbroke Grove, London.

I have e-mailed the school to confirm whether or not it sent the letter; if so, whether it has reported the parent to authorities; and to ask about the School Standards and Framework Act 1998, under which parents have the right to withdraw their children from religious education lessons as well as acts of collective worship at all schools.

bevington-primary-school-website-screenshot

Screenshot from website of Bevington Primary School (source)

Under the UK government’s controversial Prevent strategy, schools are legally required to “protect children from the risk of radicalisation” and from “the poisonous and pernicious influence of extremist ideas that are used to legitimise terrorism.”

The strategy has been strongly criticised by academics, students’ groups and free speech organisations as a threat to academic and religious freedoms.

According to recent figures, over 3,700 children (under the age of 18) were referred to authorities through Prevent in 2015-16.

Update, 12/01/17: Bevington Primary School today responded to my query, saying it is “unable to comment on individual cases” and that the matter “is confidential.”

See also: “The Tyranny of Values,” my October 23 item re: Downing Street’s unattributed use of data from “right-wing think tank” the Henry Jackson Society to “name and shame” universities that host “extremist” speakers.