I have been thinking about the topics raised for the July #BlogSyncRE ever since they were released at the start of the month. Two things coincided conveniently for me today which helped to develop my thinking on the idea that teachers in the UK are now supposed to combat radicalisation in schools, under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. These are 3 hours of CPD in Marist Spirituality with the theme “just LOVE” (as styled in the presentation) – obviously with the many levels of ‘just’ and ‘justice’ intended, and which raised the thorny issue of societal pressures on young people and dealing with them justly – and reading Andy Lewis’ blog on radicalisation, which proposes that combating it is merely an extension of the normal safeguarding that goes on in schools. This latter is evidenced in the fact that it is not just RE teachers that are supposed to be combating radicalisation, but all teachers, with the onus on the head teacher and governors to make sure teachers are trained to do so.
I would be worried if students were seduced by non-religious groups as much as by religious groups. However, I’m not sure it’s my place to say which groups are acceptable for students to join and which are not. I’m not even convinced that there has been a good definition of ‘radicalisation’ that does not raise some issues. What I might consider to be radical might not be considered as radical to another teacher. And it certainly isn’t only (a certain number of groups of) Islam that ‘recruit’ converts. The most I can do is look out for worrying signs of an underlying issue (thanks for the training on safeguarding) and pass it on to the safeguarding officer. It isn’t my role to determine the cause of the worrying behaviour or signs.
What role for RE then? I would argue that it is not the RE teacher’s responsibility to make sure that children are not attracted to any one set of religious beliefs, but I do think that engaging critically with religious beliefs in lessons give students a set of tools to bring to beliefs and ideologies they encounter in their own time. I also think RE allows a platform for students to openly discuss extreme ideas critically, and, as Neil McKain’s recent blog on teaching about 7/7 has shown, RE can be a safe place in which students can learn about radical ideas and organisations from a critical perspective.
This is where the “JUST love” comes in. As RE teachers we strive to present religions and religious beliefs objectively. We do them justice in our presentation, and we do the students justice in teaching them the skills to engage critically with beliefs, extreme or otherwise. As teachers, we do our best to protect the students we teach, but there are no perfect methods when it comes to safeguarding, and of course some students will slip through the net. But the more we build relationships with our students, and the more we treat them justly, and walk humbly with them, the more we learn about them, and the more capable we are of protecting them.