Government launches ‘Educate Against Hate’ website at school where girls fled to Syria
- Credit: Archant
A London school head teacher where four of his pupils have fled to Syria has made an impassioned plea today for parents and the community to pull together to prevent terrorists using the internet to lure away their children. Principal Mark Keary who runs the once-troubled Bethnal Green Academy was joined by Home Office security minister John Hayes and Education State Secretary Nicky Morgan to launch a website to stop children being radicalised by extremists.
The government chose Bethnal Green Academy for today’s launch—the school where four teenage girls fled to Syria to become Isis brides last year.
Mr Keary warned parents that terrorists were exploiting the internet “like paedophiles” to lure youngsters.
“Terrorists will always find ways to exploit our children’s idealism and beliefs,” he said.
“They promise them a sense of belonging, a cause to believe in and an answer to all their questions.
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“But by the time our children find out that behind this carefully drawn-out fiction there are only lies, it is often too late.”
But he warned of the fight continuing without let-up as terrorists find new ways to infiltrate the home through the internet.
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“These threats mutate and evolve, but the motivation remains constant,” he pointed out.
“Terrorists organisations have now learnt to use the online tactics of paedophiles and high-pressure manipulation to coerce young people—that’s every parent’s nightmare.”
There was need to keep children safe, to collaborate and find new strategies to deal with constantly changing threats—and avoid the lure which saw four of his pupils skip the country and join Isis in Syria.
“It’s a daunting task, sometimes overwhelming,” Mr Kiery added.
“Almost a year ago, three girls from this school made the terrible decision to leave their homes during the half-term and travel across Europe to join a group that boasts of murder and glorifies in the ruthless repression of others.
“We still don’t know who or what influenced these girls and their friend who left the previous December, to reject the values of their families and community.
“I’ve seen the impact this action had on their families, friends and teachers. It’s not something I ever want to witness again.”
Joining the launch of the Educate Against Hate website was Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs, whose local authority has responsibility for 18 secondary schools in a borough with a high population percentage of Muslims.
He said: “Only through strengthening parents, teachers and communities in identifying and responding to the warning signs of radicalisation can we protect children and young people from harm.”
Tower Hamlets schools are working with police and the council on ways to identify vulnerable children and refer them promptly for support. They have developed materials and resources across the curriculum for all age ranges.
Educate Against Hate is now rolling out a national framework of resources to aid teachers in resisting any spread of radicalisation and intolerance.
The government has also announced more Ofsted investigations into unregistered, illegal independent schools, following the closure of three in Birmingham before Christmas, which came after schools were inspected in Tower Hamlets and Birmingham last year.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Our tougher stand against illegal schools will help prevent children falling under the grasp of extremists.
“We will help prevent future incidents of young, promising children falling under the spell of twisted ideologies.”
Three girls from Bethnal Green Academy aged 15 and 16 vanished from home during the Spring half-term last February. They got through security at Gatwick and caught a flight to Turkey, where they slipped across the Syrian border to meet a fourth girl from the school and join Isis.
It later emerged that they had stolen cash from their homes to pay for the air flights at a local travel agent in Bethnal Green.
Home Office Security Minister John Hayes said: “We have seen tragically the devastating impact radicalisation can have on families and communities.
“Terrorists have targeted our young people with their poisonous propaganda with terrible consequences.”
Schools play a vital role in shielding pupils from the dangers of radicalisation, he added, as part of “the pastoral care that teachers take seriously”.
The disappearance of the four schoolgirls led to a furious condemnation in Parliament levelled against the Metropolitan Police with the Commissioner grilled at a Select Commons Committee.
Since then, the NSPCC has been contacted daily by worried parents and children themselves about radicalisation and dangers associated with extremism, its chief executive Peter Wanless has revealed.
He said: “Spotting the signs of abuse has never been more important if we are to help protect children from exploitation, gang-related activity or other hate crimes.
“We must help equip young people with a resilience and confidence in understanding and judging the risks associated with growing up, while ensuring adults identify tell-tale signs of exploitation.”
The risk of radicalisation has now been recognised following concerns that children attempting to travel to Syria were able to access material about Daesh/Isis on school computers, which have all now been filtered.
The 2015 Counter-Terrorism & Security Act legally requires schools, local authorities, prisons, police and health organisations to take steps to prevent people being drawn into terrorism.