The Metropolitan Police has warned parents to look out for signs of radicalisation as children spend more time online during the summer holidays.
Detective Jane Corrigan, from the Met’s counter-terrorism command and lead officer in the anti-extremist Prevent programme, sent a letter to schools in London last week warning parents about the risks of children encountering those seeking to “draw them into extremism”.
In the letter, Ms Corrigan said she wanted to reach out to “parents and carers across every London borough to share information about spotting signs of radicalisation in young people”.
She added: “This shouldn’t be a cause for alarm, and I want to reassure you that the risk of radicalisation is still relatively low.
However, we are seeing an increasing number of young people being drawn into various forms of extremism, so it is important we are doing everything to safeguard and protect young people from these risks.
“When a young person is being drawn down a path towards radicalisation, there are often signs in their behaviour that can indicate this is happening. This could be something like becoming more secretive about who they are speaking to, or becoming less tolerant of other people’s views.”
She advised parents to use the ACT Early website to identify signs of radicalisation or to contact Prevent for support.
Prevent is the Government’s counter-radicalisation programme aimed at safeguarding and supporting those vulnerable to radicalisation to help steer people away from radicalisation and extremism.
Around 30 per cent of referrals to the Prevent counter-extremism programme come from schools.
Research last year by academics from the University College London (UCL) Institute of Education revealed extreme views like racism, homophobia and conspiracy theories are widespread in classrooms across England.
The majority of teachers spoken to by the researchers said they have heard pupils express far-right extremist views in their classroom, as well as “extremist views about women” or Islamophobia.
Nearly nine in 10 teachers have heard conspiracy theories being discussed by students.
Teachers raised concerns about pupils’ exposure to extremist views online, often claiming that this has been “exacerbated by the pandemic and lockdowns” – and the report suggested that conspiracy theories and online disinformation “is an emerging area that needs consideration”.