A “vague definition of extremism” is hampering freedom of expression in schools and endangering children’s privacy, according to a new report.
Rights Watch UK, which monitors Government efforts to protect security, said the current ‘Prevent’ counter-extremism initative is causing problems in classrooms.
Under Prevent, public bodies including councils, schools, NHS trusts and prisons must “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.
In its report, Rights Watch UK questioned dozens of children, parents and teachers and found that some children were self-censoring in order to avoid being reported.
The organisation said: “We have uncovered a number of instances where children have been referred to Prevent for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression in situations where they pose no threat to society whatsoever.”
Examples given included a nursery school child who was investigated because teachers thought he had said “cooker-bomb” rather than “cucumber”.
In Hampshire a 16-year-old student who took out a book on terrorism from the school library was referred to Prevent.
Rights Watch UK said Prevent was having a “chilling effect on free speech”, and also raised concerns about young people’s privacy.
“There is evidence that under Prevent, information on children is being collected and retained without their consent and with no apparent regulation and safeguards”, the report stated.
Yasmine Ahmed, Director of Rights Watch UK, said: “Children should be encouraged to learn and grow, to express their views and have them challenged, and to value the fundamental rights that allow them to do so.
“A strategy that undermines these rights and alienates vulnerable children is counterproductive and inconsistent with the very ‘British values’ that the Government is supposedly promoting.”