PSHE education is vital to prevent radicalisation

Derren Hayes
Thursday, June 1, 2017

Recent events in Manchester have again highlighted young people's vulnerability to brainwashing by extremist ideology.

We may never know the factors that pushed the UK-born bomber to extremism. Yet accounts have painted a picture of a fun-loving teenager who withdrew from mainstream society. His path to radicalisation must have started somewhere, with the journey from disaffected young person to terrorist probably happening over a long period of time. Understanding this process is important if we are to prevent others from being radicalised. In playgrounds and youth groups across the country, children and young people will be talking about the Manchester attack. They will be reading about it online and sharing their views on social media. In some schools, they will be discussing the issue in personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) lessons. These types of discussions are best led by skilled professionals trained on such issues, but some schools do not teach PSHE education.

Through the Children and Social Work Act, which received Royal Assent in April, the government pledged to introduce compulsory PSHE education (see our guide). Under the act, sex and relationships education (SRE) in secondary schools and relationships education in primaries will also be introduced from 2019.

These commitments can provide the foundations for a more comprehensive approach to preventing young people from being victims of radicalisation and must be acted upon without delay. However, something so complex cannot be taught as a single-issue subject. A common thread through many of the exploitation threats young people face is how they form and navigate relationships, and the role that technology plays.

In March, a report by the House of Lords select committee on communications said "online responsibilities, social norms and risks should be part of mandatory PSHE".

PSHE Association chief executive Jonathan Baggaley says young people need to be taught not just what a healthy relationship looks like, but also "media literacy to recognise manipulation, communication skills to exit a situation, and the knowledge and confidence to get help should they need to". He is concerned that the focus on the ‘sex' element of SRE could overshadow improving how young people are taught about all relationships.

These are sensitive, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations for young people to have with teachers, youth workers and other professionals. But they are vital. If we help give young people the skills they need to protect themselves from exploitation or radicalisation, understanding healthy relationships must be at the core of PSHE education.

Derren Hayes editor, Children & Young People Now
derren.hayes@markallengroup.com

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