Practitioner insight: How can teachers and schools determine what an effective Prevent Channel referral looks like? by Imtiaz Kala

As a safeguard specialist with over 20 years’ experience who has been the single point of contact on radicalisation within a northern local authority, schools and the voluntary sector, the question of Channel referrals remains vitally important.  Common misconceptions are often around how educational settings have interpreted the 2015 Prevent legislation, their specific duties, the role of a designated safeguarding lead (DSL) and what the school needs to do around the issue of managing and evidencing British Values.

As a practitioner, here are some personal experiences I can share.

Is it an appropriate Channel/Prevent referral?
The Home Office recently released 2017/18 Channel statistics as part of a regular transparency drive to make the public better understand the Channel process, drawing distinctions between a referral and a Channel intervention  and how for the first time extreme far right referrals have risen to 36%.

Over the years I have seen a number of school referrals made to local Channel panels in order to prevent young people and families from becoming radicalised.  Some notable examples include a family going to Turkey over the holidays for 3 weeks, another where a pupil that was bored in class, went on an inappropriate site, and a third where a convert to Islam was deemed to be vulnerable to being radicalised.

I’ve found that some referrals, as shown in statistics, can turn out to be inappropriate by not meeting the Channel threshold and needlessly place young people and families with undue pressure and stress.  In some cases, there are no issues at all and in other cases there are other support needs that could have been provided by the educational establishment itself, without the need to turn to Channel or Prevent coordinators.  Some examples of school support may indeed be around Early Help, Pastoral Support Plan, referral to other support agencies instead.

My top 3 recommendations for schools and education settings when determining an effective safeguarding referral are:

1. ORGANISATIONAL CULTURE: A key aspect is to look at the culture of the organisation.  Does safeguarding permeate through your organisation and does contextual safeguarding and professional curiosity lead the way in identifying the risks and vulnerabilities?  Other questions to ask is whether the organisation seeks to look at the bigger context from their staff, students, parents and governors and ask supportive and/or challenging questions when addressing issues.

2. INCLUSIVITY: Does the organisations’ values and attitudes lend itself to being an inclusive organisation?  Do policies and procedures reflect work on the ground. Is the curriculum inclusive?  Other aspects to consider is whether the PSHE and SMSC curriculum allows for critical debate and thinking on key areas around extremism and safeguarding?  My opinion is that in good school environments, staff should be comfortable in not only being able to hold these debates, but also be competent to have good areas of knowledge about the areas in question.  Similarly, inclusion and cultural awareness of staff and pupils is vital so that staff in particular understand the values of faiths and different cultures.

3. UPSKILLING STAFF & the REFERRAL PROCESS: Staff competency and understanding of the Prevent and Channel process alongside appropriate safeguarding questioning skills plus adhering to the school safeguarding policy is very important.

  • Is the DSL trained and aware of the role around passing appropriate referrals?
  • Do staff feel comfortable to challenge comments and will they be supported by their institution?

Staff should be very clear about the referral process when considering safeguarding referrals, be it for radicalisation, female genital mutilation, or the general abuse cases.  Senior management backing combined with the skills of the DSL to pursue appropriately is key.  Important skill sets such as seeking advice from relevant agencies, note taking, feedback, and contextual information is important.  If this does not occur as a matter of course then staff may lack the confidence to share concerns or inappropriately identify safeguard issues, when in reality, the issue is more about support from other agencies or within the school or home.

Culturally competent organisations with diverse staff across the spectrum of the organisation allow for sharing concerns, issues, and be able to celebrate diversity.

In my experience, when making any kind of safeguarding referrals the school should be clear about the context, the bigger picture around the child’s life by piecing the issues together and then concluding about the individual needs and support of such a young person. In many cases staff competence in the area will drive the understanding to ask appropriate questions so that when referrals are made, they are of high quality and lead to a young person being correctly referred and hopefully then receiving the support needed.