Radicalisation and the new Guy Fawkes

Image: Josh Boot on Unsplash

As fireworks crackle, rockets soar and brightly coloured lights fill the air this Bonfire Night, how many of us will stop and think about the story behind this annual celebration?

The 1605 Gunpowder Plot was hatched by a group of religious extremists to unseat the Protestant King James, blow up the newly unified UK parliament, and restore the country to Catholic rule.

And while we remember Guy Fawkes and burn effigies of the most famous British terrorist of them all, those who look after children and young people today are being tasked with preventing the next Guido.

The government’s Prevent strategy, updated this summer, calls on those with children in their care to report them to the authorities if they suspect they may hold ‘extremist’ views. Section 68 states: ‘Specified authorities will need to demonstrate that they are protecting children and young people from being drawn into terrorism by having robust safeguarding policies in place to identify children at risk, and intervening as appropriate.’

This puts teachers, social workers, youth leaders… in fact, anyone who spends time with other people’s children, under huge pressure. It’s no wonder those charged with implementing the policy are struggling.

The Independent's i100 website carried a story about Alison Phipps of Brighton, who posted a tongue-in-cheek letter on Twitter that she’d written in response to her son’s nursery. She said she’d received an email informing parents that the nursery would now be 'promoting British values' in order to comply with the government’s Prevent measures.

In an email, Alison told the website that the nursery had confirmed to her that they would be carrying out ‘risk assessment of the potential for radicalisation’ to meet new Ofsted requirements in its Early Years Inspection handbook, published in September. Alison’s son is two years old.

At face value, it simply sounds like an overreaction by the nursery, but with so much pressure on care providers, can we blame them if they’re struggling to meet their obligations?

People whose job should be caring for and nurturing the next generation, are suddenly expected to become the Thought Police and stop potential terrorists before they even know how to spell the word. Remember, we’re not talking about people who are actively planning terrorist acts, but children who could hold views that mean they may potentially, one day, possibly, talk about planning something. It’s all getting a bit Minority Report out there.

Whether this incident is one of many where organisations are just trying to meet their statutory requirements as best they can, or whether Big Brother really is here in the 21st century, 31 years after George Orwell predicted it, remains to be seen.

But as the Catherine wheels turn on Thursday and the sparklers wave, it makes you wonder, 410 years after Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters were caught in the act, how much has really changed.

A version of this blog first appeared on ParentZone.org.uk

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