There are good people who do Prevent!’ Policy detoxification on the frontline of Preventing Violent Extremism

Lecture by Joel Busher, Coventry University

Described by prominent commentators, and even some politicians, as “toxic”, the UK government’s Prevent Strategy – intended to prevent people becoming radicalised into terrorism or violent extremism – has been deeply controversial since its inception in 2003. The announcement in February 2015 that all public institutions, including schools and colleges, would have a legal duty under Prevent intensified these debates. The government insisted this duty should be understood simply as part of existing responsibilities to “safeguard” children. Critics however expressed concern that it would put undue pressure on schools and teachers and that the new measures could intensify suspicion of the state, particularly within Muslim communities, thereby actually playing into the hands of those seeking to recruit young people into terroristic activities.


Our research has explored educationalists’ (teachers and other school/college staff) experiences of and attitudes towards implementing the Prevent duty. As expected, we found anxieties about Prevent and its delivery, but we also found relatively little opposition to the principle of schools having a legal duty under Prevent, and certainly not the vitriolic opposition that some initially predicted.


In this paper we argue that central to understanding these findings are a series of interlocking mechanisms of “policy detoxification” embedded within practices of policy enactment. These include: the performance and internalisation of “Prevent as safeguarding”; the use of Prevent to re-invigorate less contentious areas of work around citizenship and equality; practitioners’ narrative construction of themselves as moral individuals and as effective and deliberative policy mediators; and the strategic omission of difficult questions about Prevent that may destabilise these moral identities.


We conclude by exploring a politically and theoretically intriguing implication. It is possible that the introduction of the Prevent duty on schools and colleges, while initially controversial, may in fact have generated an effective avenue through which to challenge, or at least soften, public opposition to Prevent. Whether that is a good thing or not depends on one’s own moral assessment of this policy agenda.

The Paper is written by Joel Busher (Coventry University), Tufyal Choudhury (Durham University) and Paul Thomas (University of Huddersfield)

Published Oct. 30, 2017 9:10 AM - Last modified Nov. 17, 2017 3:39 PM