Embracing the Prevent challenge
Two and a half years ago when I started as a Prevent Coordinator supporting the further and higher education sectors, my motivations were to be challenging in a new environment whilst helping people and institutions to protect themselves and improve. I could not have envisaged how quickly the landscape would change and how the conflict in Syria would come dominate the whole Prevent and counter-terrorism agenda across the world. The civil unrest resulting from the events of the Arab Spring in early 2011 created an opportunity for terrorist and militant groups to rapidly progress their designs to establish an Islamic Caliphate, crossing national borders, killing thousands and displacing millions of people. Al Qaeda and particularly ISIS (more appropriately referred to as Daesh) have seized large swathes of Syria and Iraq, including major cities, and now pose a significant threat to many parts of western society. But why is this seemingly remote conflict of such significance that our Government has hurriedly legislated a range of measures contained within the Counter-Terrorism & Security Act? This includes the statutory “Prevent Duty” which demands public sector authorities take action to “prevent people being drawn into terrorism”. We only have to look at the profile of the 700 young people who have so far travelled to join the fight to understand these are not individuals making well informed decisions about the course of their life but in fact are young men, and now increasingly women and girls, hurtling headlong into a nightmare of proportions we can only imagine. Concerned about these individuals as we are though, the Government’s actions are also designed to protect our wider community should they decide to return armed with skills and motivations honed in the terror training camps of brutal regimes such as ISIS. Recent history tells us that such people do return home eventually, many of them posing a significant threat to us all. The best way to defend against that horror is, of course, working together to identify and support those at risk, the core aim of Prevent. Whilst the “Prevent Duty” provides a significant challenge for us all it is also an opportunity to re-examine how we protect and support staff, students and our infrastructure. The “Prevent Duty” is a real opportunity to work together across the sector to increase trust within that important and vital environment for our young people – education. Sam Slack is the East Midlands HE/FE Prevent Coordinator, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. He will be discussing these issues at our Health & Safety Conference on 25 June in Nottingham. To attend Sam’s session entitled The Counter-Terrorism & Security Act "Prevent Duty" – What does it mean for colleges?, register today. See the full event overview.