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Surveillance and Preventing Violent Extremism: The evidence from schools and further education colleges in England

Busher, Joel; Choudhury, Tufyal; Thomas, Paul


Joel Busher

Paul Thomas


Michael Kwet


Since 2001, the British state has increased its powers of surveillance for the purposes of countering terrorism. Much of this has been through expansions of the powers of police and security services to engage in covert surveillance and access the personal data of those suspected of involvement in terrorism. Alongside this, however, the last decade has also seen the development of more diffuse practices of monitoring and surveillance as part of efforts to identify and provide support to those deemed ‘vulnerable’ to being drawn into terrorism. Under Prevent, the UK Government’s strategy for preventing violent extremism (PVE), much of the responsibility was initially placed on the police and on the communities identified as having particularly high levels of vulnerability, which in practice meant Britain’s Muslim communities. Subsequently, however, responsibility for PVE has increasingly been shifted onto a broad swathe of professionals engaged in the delivery of public services, including social workers, youth workers, healthcare workers, prison staff, school teachers, and college and university lecturers. The culmination of this ‘responsibilisation’ of frontline professionals, for the time-being at least, has been the introduction of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA 2015). Popularly referred to as the ‘Prevent duty’, this placed a legal duty on schools, colleges and other stated authorities to show “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. The statutory guidance accompanying this duty set out two primary areas of responsibility for schools and colleges. First, to identify individuals considered vulnerable to radicalization, and refer them to Channel, the UK government’s counter-radicalization mentoring programme. Second, they were required to actively promote ‘fundamental British values’ – defined by the government as ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ – on the grounds that this would reduce students’ ‘vulnerability’ to extremism. In this chapter, we discuss how the introduction of the Prevent duty has shaped surveillance and monitoring practices in schools and colleges in England, and how such practices intersect with the politics and practices of race, religion and difference. The discussion draws on the emerging academic and grey literature on this topic, as well as on our own original empirical data from fieldwork conducted in the duty’s initial implementation phase in 2016 and 2017. These data include 70 in-depth interviews with educationalists in 14 schools and colleges in London and West Yorkshire, 8 interviews with local Prevent practitioners from across England, a national online survey of school and college staff (n=225) and discussions of emergent findings with 6 stakeholder groups.


Busher, J., Choudhury, T., & Thomas, P. (2023). Surveillance and Preventing Violent Extremism: The evidence from schools and further education colleges in England. In M. Kwet (Ed.), The Cambridge Handbook of Surveillance and Race (267-287). Cambridge University Press.

Acceptance Date Nov 11, 2021
Publication Date 2023
Deposit Date Nov 22, 2021
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Pages 267-287
Series Title Cambridge Handbooks
Book Title The Cambridge Handbook of Surveillance and Race