James Forsyth

How to prevent schools from being hijacked by extremists

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The coalition plan to let parents, teachers and voluntary groups set up schools and be paid by the state for every pupil they educate has the potential to transform education for the better in this country. But this policy also requires the government to prevent these freedoms from being abused by extremist groups who want to teach hate. The revelations on tomorrow night’s Panorama about weekend schools that use Saudi textbooks that ask pupils to list the “reprehensible"  qualities of Jews and teach the Protocols of Zion as fact are  a reminder of how serious this threat is.

A new report from Policy Exchange, a think tank that has done a huge amount of important work on how to combat extremism, sets out how to prevent such groups from taking control of faith schools. Its main recommendation is for a Due Diligence Unit directly accountable to the Secretary of State that would assess schools against a statutory definition of extremism.

This might seem overly bureaucratic. But having a simple, legal definition of extremism and teaching inspectors what questions to ask would make it far harder for extremists to slip through the net.

PS The proposed check-list for whether someone is an extremist or not is, I think, an impressive starting point for debate:

a) support or condone the deliberate targeting for attack of civilians (as

defined by the Geneva Conventions) anywhere in the world.

b) call for, or condone, attacks on British service personnel and their allies

anywhere in the world or against any forces acting under a UN mandate.

c) call for or condone the destruction of UN member states.

d) give a platform to deniers of, or apologists for, crimes against humanity,

including genocide.

e) support or condone terrorism anywhere in the world.

f) discriminate or advocate discrimination on the basis of religion, religious sect,

race, sexual orientation or gender in any aspect of public life or public policy.

g) oppose armed forces’ recruitment.