Prevent officers probe school history lessons for far-Right links

Classroom - Getty
Classroom - Getty

School history lessons have been probed by Prevent officers over fears ideas about Britain’s past could fuel far-Right extremism, The Telegraph can reveal.

The counter-terrorism programme has been used by Derby City Council in response to the Black Lives Matter movement to audit how history is being taught in local secondary and primary schools.

Prevent officers feared certain readings of British history could cause "biases and misconceptions that may underpin far-Right extremism", documents obtained by The Telegraph reveal.

A report by counter-terrorism staff expressed hopes that schools "developing the history curriculum" could "provide a more rounded view of history" to curb right-wing extremism, and welcomed a "diversity of topics" spanning slavery and colonialism.

The internal report following the audit of schools also welcomed teaching which provided an "alternative view of history compared to the dominant white, male, heterosexual one".

The Prevent audit surveyed heads of all of Derby’s secondary schools and a small selection of primaries with a view to sharing best practice on the teaching of history, for the benefit of student "self-esteem" and "improving community cohesion".

This cohesion is usually safeguarded by the Prevent duty within schools by protecting pupils from radicalisation, through ideologies such as Islamist extremism, and reaffirming shared British values.

In Derby, Prevent officers began an audit of curriculums in the wake of BLM protests to assess their diversity, and the audit report notes the "creative" ways in which this was achieved, including teaching about the BLM movement, decolonisation, and the slave trade.

Pupils, the post-BLM report notes, were also taught the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol, Enoch Powell’s "rivers of blood" speech, and the medieval crusades.

Teaching was opposed to the "sometimes blindly patriotic perspectives that might have been commonplace until recently", the report states, as teachers showed a desire to offer "a more realistic version of history".

A conference sharing best practice on the teaching of history is planned for Autumn 2021, following the work of Prevent which was carried out amid nationwide calls from BLM campaigners to "decolonise the curriculum".

The use of a counter-extremism programme to probe history lessons was condemned on Saturday by former security minister Sir John Hayes, once responsible for counter-terrorism, who fears the programme is being used "for malevolent and ideological purposes".

He told The Telegraph: "Prevent in no way should be used to interfere with the school curriculum, that can never be justified, it does raise questions."

He added: "Britain has an immensely glorious history, we’ve made a huge positive contribution to the world.

"Part of the purpose of learning in schools is to gain a knowledge of that contribution, the great canon of English literature, and all aspects of the past which have made us as a people.

"History cannot be bent to fit with popular prejudices. You cannot reinvent history."

The Department for Education echoed the former minister's position on the uses of Prevent following revelations made by The Telegraph.

A Government spokesman said: "The Prevent Duty requires schools and local authorities to take steps to protect children from radicalisation, which may include working together to support young people to understand and challenge terrorist ideologies.

"It is inappropriate to use Prevent as a pretext for pursuing reforms to the wider curriculum. The law places clear requirements on local authorities regarding political impartiality in schools."

The report produced by a Prevent education officer notes that Prevent work was undertaken following the death of George Floyd during a "period of self-reflection for many organisations", and noted "how far we still have left to go" on racial equality.

Derby City Council has said the work was "not a criticism or endorsement of any single view of the current history curriculum".

A spokeswoman for the council, which has no overall political majority, said: "The curriculum was identified within the Black Lives Matter manifesto submitted to Derby City Council with a focus on adopting inclusive school policies and tackling different rates of exclusions, opportunities and outcomes by ethnicity.

"Whilst we have worked with headteachers and schools on the subject, as an authority we have no role in setting the curriculum and it is for individual schools to set and change it."