Dr S Miah – Overcoming the Challenges of Extremism

In July, a colleague in our maths department approached me and shared that he’d had an idea for an event. One that might support staff confidence when it came to speaking to students about extremism, radicalisation and challenging the myths perpetuated by the media. We loved the idea and so a team of us set out to have a panel discussion on the subject for the September development day. Within 24 hours we were almost full and with just 90 places, we knew we’d have to run similar events in the future.
What follows are some of the notes I took during Dr Shamim Miah’s (@shamim1) talk.

The talk was built around his recent book, ‘Muslims, schooling and security‘. Primarily chapter 6 of his book, which was centred on the way in which the whole agenda around security has changed and developed. He would focus on ‘radicalisation’ – So what is it? How does it work? Where does it come from?

The word has its origins in the Latin word, ‘radix‘. It means the ‘primary source’ or the origin of something. So radicalisation really refers to the moments before the bomb goes off rather than the violent acts themselves.

Prior to 2001, there was no reference to extremist radicalisation. After that, the political discourse and academic debate begins and the term comes into existence.

Olivier Roy and identity

A French political scientist and professor says that the reason certain individuals get involved in terrorism is due to the realignment of identities. If there is a disconnect between what an individual perceives their identity to be and the social/political climate then there is an imbalance they find a way to address. Religion isn’t the primary driver.

Mark Sageman and networks 

He worked as a CIA Operative and spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. His thesis about radicalisation is that the cause is not the religion but the social network an individual interacts with.So what of the suggestion, often reinforced by the media, that there is a clear correlation between segregation and radicalisation?If you look at some of the most segregated communities, the Amish in America for instance, you’ll struggle to find any examples of extremism in their communities (where the segregation indices are high).

Ludi Simpson and integration

Working at the centre for ethnicity and diversity, explored the longitudinal census data for several locations- Bradford, Oldham, Birmingham and London and discovered there was more integration than self-segregation.

Read about this study here

In the early part of the 60s, integration meant assimilation.

Integration after 2001 meant community cohesion.

Post 2006, integration had some security connotations to it.

There’s an issue of interpretation regarding integration and segregation.

When we drive through a city, there are often physical forms of segregation. The assumption is then often made that the individuals have self-selected to live in these areas. Perhaps we often neglect to consider the economic factors that may impose the area in which individuals end up living.

Equally, we can’t jump to conclusions about segregation when it comes to arrests either. It’s indicated that of the numbers of individuals arrested and sentenced under the counter-terrorism act, a significant number come from middle-class backgrounds and there’s no clear indication they come from segregated communities.

Bob Pape

At the Chicago centre for he study of suicide bombing, he conducted a longitudinal study between 1983 and 2003 and discovered that religion wasn’t the key motivating factor and they generally took place in response to a military occupation.

‘He says that religious fervor is not a motive unto itself. Rather, it serves as a tool for recruitment and a potent means of getting people to overcome their fear of death and natural aversion to killing innocents.’

‘What 95 percent of all suicide attacks have in common, since 1980, is not religion, but a specific strategic motivation to respond to a military intervention, often specifically a military occupation, of territory that the terrorists view as their homeland or prize greatly. From Lebanon and the West Bank in the 80s and 90s, to Iraq and Afghanistan, and up through the Paris suicide attacks we’ve just experienced in the last days, military intervention—and specifically when the military intervention is occupying territory—that’s what prompts suicide terrorism more than anything else.’

Click here to read more about his work


So what draws people to join foreign fights?Foriegn Fighters.png

One particularly noticeable factor, is that if religion were to be a driver, why is it that Malaysia and Indonesia, with the largest populations of Muslims, are not on the list?

Within the list of top foreign fighter nationalities are countries with political instability themselves and this could be a contributing factor.

Within the Western Europe figures, the highest countries are France, Belgium and the UK.

Of the individuals who travel to fight, there is not a single universal trend that draws everyone’s experiences together. Each individual has a different journey.

One possible pattern is that many seem to be 2nd and 3rd generation migrants, not first.

“If you are a youngster in the French suburbs, your mates are second-generation Muslim immigrants and you want to wage war against society, the system, where do you go?” Olivier Roy

There are certainly some indications that the number of foreign fighters who have criminal backgrounds already is high.

‘In his survey of 31 incidents of jihadist terrorism in Europe between September 2001 and October 2006, Edwin Bakker found that at least 58 of the 242 perpetrators of these attacks—or 24 percent, a “strikingly high number,” he says—had a criminal record prior to their arrest for terrorism-related offenses. According to a study by Robin Simcox, of 58 individuals linked to 32 ISIS-related plots in the West between July 2014 and August 2015, 22 percent had a past criminal record or were in contact with law enforcement.’

Click here to read more about this

Increasingly with foreign fighters, there’s the Islamisation of radicals rather than the radicalisation of Muslims.

It has been estimated that 6% of foreign fighters from EU countries are converts to Islam, many are second or third generation immigrants, very few have a prior connection with Syria, and almost one- fifth (18%) are women.

Click here to view more of this data

Most government policies focus on religion. Make sense of that and you understand the individuals. This is, most likely, leading us down an unhelpful path.

So what can be done to overcome some of the challenges extremism presents to us?

Education gives us a way forward.

Critical led pedagogy.

We have tools.

We can challenge ideas.

Empowering our students to think critically is essential.

We must teach them to look at facts and not to internalise them but to question their origin and potential bias.

Education can provide knowledge but there should be a greater focus on what students do with this knowledge (hopefully consider it critically). We should be a more enlightened individual at the end of our education.

Too much of education is about the economics- What do you want to earn at the end of this? Where do you want to go? Education should be far more about self-actualisation than about how much money you have in your bank.

Self-actualisation certainly sits well with the diversity of the FE landscape and environment. Helping our students to differentiate between fact and fiction is our duty.

In fact, a study at the end of 2016 carried out by Stanford University indicates students’ ability to determine fact from fiction may be in a worrying state already-

‘The students displayed a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their responses, the researchers wrote, getting duped again and again. They weren’t looking for high-level analysis of data but just a “reasonable bar” of, for instance, telling fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources and ads from articles.

“Many assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there,” the researchers wrote. “Our work shows the opposite.”

“What we see is a rash of fake news going on that people pass on without thinking,” he said. “And we really can’t blame young people because we’ve never taught them to do otherwise.”

Read more about this study here

We’ll be looking more closely at how we develop students’ critical thinking skills at The Sheffield College and we’d love to know what resources you’re using to develop this in your students.


Unfortunately, Shaykh Sadaqat Hussain was ill and couldn’t make it to this event at the last minute but we hope to rearrange his visit.



Olivier Roy, Jihad and Death
Mark Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks
Mark Sageman, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century
Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism
Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists
Bell Hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

Promoting British Values

Ever since I attended the development day @sheffcol on how to have conversations about Prevent and British Values with students, it occurred to me that we needed to be integrate more explicit promotion rather than hidden embedding of these values.

This has resulted in a collection of ideas to start us on this journey. I’m hoping it will grow as a result of colleagues sharing their approaches.

Click here for the live online version





And I’m not sure I know anything more powerful for beginning a conversation about mutual respect and tolerance than this:

British Values

Most of us want to prepare our learners for life and British Values gives us another opportunity to do that.

Although I’ve not heard any of my colleagues contest that ‘British Values’ is important, they may have contested the term itself. The ‘British Values’ term is still being used by Ofsted, and whether we find it problematic or not, we need to use it too. Our job, especially in South Yorkshire (where the threat is high because of right wing extremism), is about challenging the views that may have arisen about what ‘British’ means; all those things that are entirely un-British. There are many within the communities we serve for whom, ‘British’ means the exact opposite of the values detailed within the Prevent duty. It is our job to teach our students what it really means to be British:

  • Democracy
  • Rule of Law
  • Individual Liberty
  • Mutual respect and tolerance of other faiths and beliefs

Both our staff and students need to be able to say what they are and how ‘extremism’ can be both prevented and avoided.

What is extremism?

‘Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values and calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.’

A person can be vocally opposed to the values but it’s about what the person does with that view; where and with whom. Nicola Sturgeon is effectively rallying against democratic values; fighting against Brexit. But she isn’t being dealt with as an extremist because although her views don’t align with British Values, she’s not rallying calls to violence and getting young and vulnerable people involved (at least not yet!). Crucially, she’s engaging with respectful debate and discussion- not closing it down.


The picture from Ofsted and ETF (this blog is written after an ETF event)

What do Ofsted expect to see or hear?

  • Students who know what the Prevent duty is
  • Learners know how to keep themselves safe from extremism and radicalisation
  • British Values are integrated fully into the curriculum (more than superficially)
  • Multi-faith rooms are seen to be used by more than one faith group
  • Minority groups are not feeling discriminated against.

If Ofsted deem an organisation as not meeting the duty will result in:

  • Independent training provider’s contract being terminated.
  • Commissioner making an immediate assessment.

Exemplify AND find opportunities to promote British Values.

Leaders promote equality of opportunity and diversity exceptionally well so that the ethos and culture of the provider prevent any form of direct or indirect discriminatory behaviour.
The promotion of fundamental British Values is at the heart of the provider’s work.

High quality training develop staff’s vigilance, confidence and competency to challenge learners’ views and encourage debate. We need to work with staff to develop how able they are to create a controlled climate in which debate can occur(without prejudice or discrimination).

EVERYONE needs to be trained in the organisation- how confident could we be about this? Governors, managers, staff and volunteers.

Online (this covers you at a basic level), as well as face-to-face (for the depth and detail required).

We ALL need to exemplify British Values in management, teaching and through general behaviours across the college, school or training provider; including through opportunities in the FE curriculum and, they encourage students to respect other people with particular regard to the protected characteristics.

We need to be able to challenge views that are unacceptable with regards to Prevent, British Values, and E&D. We need to support staff to feel confident about challenging these views.

External speakers- could they be a threat to our College/school’s safe environment?

We need to take care with who we invite in. Vet them first and assess the risk. A process needs to be followed through for speakers- even if they’ve been coming in for 10 years… This goes for all safeguarding.

Once the risk has been assessed, if we’re unsure whether they’ll share their extremist views, then we have a choice:

1- Mitigate the risk by having staff there who will work to actively counter the views and perhaps put a stop to the event if required. View resources beforehand and have a strong staff presence on the day to safeguard students.

2- The more likely and safer option- avoid the risk to students andthe college’s / school’s reputation by cancelling the speaker.

Prayer rooms

Prayer rooms should be multi-faith. Ensure prayer mats are in cupboards and there are no posters or leaflets on display. Also ensure that any one group of students are not preventing others from using the room. Positioning of the room is important- ensure passing oversight- don’t hide it away.

Other considerations
Regular updates should be made to risk assessments with regards to the Prevent duty so that they can be explained to Ofsted- what we’re doing, what the impact has been, what we’re still planning to do to improve.

Ensure due diligence with sub-contractors- check they’re not inadvertently finding terrorist organisations.

Monitoring of internet usage- often problematic. Personal devices with 3/4G pose a particular difficulty. Far better to have them use their devices in College (so that we have a chance of seeing what they’re doing) rather than keep it all outside of school/ college though.

Channel Panel

Channel is the mentoring process for those vulnerable to manipulation by extremists. They’ll decide who to work with based on the following:

  • Engagement with a group, cause or ideology which is identified as extremist
  • Intent to cause harm
  • Ability to cause harm

A clear pathway should exist within policy, procedure and action for supporting any individual that may need intervention from Channel. This referral is made via the Prevent coordinator in the Local Authority (in Sheffield at least as we’re a high priority area).

Pedestrian Crossing Crossing City Buildings

Image available from here


From theory to practice

So the big question, as always with these things, is what is the advice for turning the duty from theory to practice?

‘Preparing students for life in modern Britain’ is really what the values are concerned with. So what are some examples of what this might look like? Here are some the examples of practice that were shared on the day:

  • Debates and pieces of writing around faiths and beliefs in FS English and GCSE
  • Give students cards of the values and ask the students to hold up their card when they think they’ve seen it during a session OR ask them at the end of the session what British Values were incorporated today?
  • Incorporate debates properly into a SoW- use a vote so that students can see that democracy is about ‘losing’ as well as ‘winning’.
  • Use votes to decide on things in class.
  • Provide choice of learning activity or approach in sessions.
  • ‘The pursuit of happiness’ as part of individual liberty- focus on the choices our young people can expect to encounter along their life journey- where do the limits on their freedom end? Because they do… freedom of choice does not just extend infinitely.
  • Register all learners to vote (they can register to vote at 16). Some universities do this as part of enrolment – could colleges do this too?
  • Encouraging involvement in election of reps.
  • Use the news (especially at the moment!) to start lessons or make links with topics being studied to draw in British Values in action currently.
  • MOve students from any sense of alienation, frustration, feeling disenfranchised by sharing the legitimate ways in which we can make our voices heard- petitions to the government etc. This is how change can be facilitated. This is a far better use of their voice then trolling online for instance…
  • We can use national minimum wage to discuss British Values- democracy (it was brought about in this country because of petitions, votes and laws being created in Parliament). Compliance with the Equality Act- no matter what their protected characteristic. But they can also have a discussion about age- particularly in relation to apprenticeships- how fair is it that the pay is lower?
  • We can use examples of tribunal cases to discuss British Values INSERT IMAGE
  • We can use voting data INSERT IMAGE
  • As part of induction- incorporate a quiz to check basic awareness and understanding.
  • Apprentices- bring first wage slip in as well as contract of employment and explore it- incorporates numeracy as well as rule of law.
  • Incorporate news items as part of starter activities- ask students to bring in items to share with one another/present (builds confidence).
  • Reflective questions at the end of a session- where could you see maths and English/ British Values in today’s lesson?

Some concerns were raised about Apprentices- they’re in the workplace- the staff may not display behaviours that align with British values. We’d be unable to eradicate the comments they may come across. Our job is to prepare students for life in modern Britain. How equipped are they to respond to these offensive comments and situations?

We have a job to challenge the ‘normality’ they might be used to, whether that’s work, home or their community.

If we have extreme concerns about a workplace, we need to ensure our risk assessment covers aspects of safeguarding as well as Health & Safety.



Image available from here

Responding in the moment

We now have a legal duty to challenge whether we feel confident to do so or not. ETF advised that there is no script- it’s dependent on your knowledge of a learner and the context. There could be a script though? Paul Dix suggests this for behaviour management so that responses are consistent across all staff. Scripts could really help us to raise confidence levels of all staff. Some go to phrases that could be used, especially if the student was then to be referred elsewhere for support/ a further conversation/ a restorative conversation.

Immediate challenge and follow-up is necessary in every case stated below. For some staff, the minimum would be to challenge the statement and say that it’s unacceptable. Follow-ups could then be taken to other groups safeguarding etc. We don’t have to feel confident about the history and politics of every view students might present with.



How might someone respond to you saying that kind of comment? That’s not a respectful thing to say. How could those words cause harm to another person?
Avoid getting into an argument about scripture. It might be there in the Koran- that’s not the issue.
After initial reaction, a more in-depth discussion about where he’s got the view from and if he’s at risk. Likely to make a referral to Prevent- link to a mentor from the local Muslim community through the Channel panel.


Initial response- Why? What have you seen/heard? You might have seen hat but it’s not demonstrating mutual respect.
Replace ‘muslims’ with something else- ’16 year old boys’, ‘jobseekers’… then you realise how ridiculous the statement is.
Afterwards- follow-up 1-1 discussion as to ‘why’ they think that.
Make the rest of the delivery team aware to keep their ears open- record it so that there’s no missing link (she might be making comments in other lessons too).
Follow-up with a lesson or starter activities about media and stereotyping.


Initial response- That’s not a respectful remark to make. It might be banter but how does it make your friends feel? How about the students walking past?
Afterwards- 1-1- find the root cause of threat perception. Work on debunking the view- stats about jobs to be shared as part of a class activity.


Initial response- that’s completely unacceptable behaviour. Check their understanding of the term. Talk about the impact on young women- speak about heir sisters/ mum/ family. Sit down next to them so that you’re on their level and therefore it’s not an altercation. To be a self-respecting young man then you don’t target young women in that way.
Speak with the girls about what they’d like as an outcome.
Follow-up with a lesson about women and how they’re made to feel. Disciplinary route and conversation with parents.
‘I don’t want to work with him. He’s a Paki’

What’s important is that we can’t and shouldn’t ban discussion of politics altogether (especially in the current climate where it’s all they’ll see and hear around them). Far better to open up a discussion and develop students’ critical thinking skills so that they can challenge what they hear/see for themselves (which becomes an increasing challenge in the face of fake news).

Questions like these can help:

  • What makes you believe that?
  • Where have you read or heard it?
  • What was the evidence given?
  • Have you checked that evidence? You need to if you’re planning to spread that belief to others.
  • Why might they be arguing that? What are they trying to persuade you of? What is their intent / purpose?