UK schoolchildren as young as 9 have been asked by teachers to complete a survey apparently aimed at providing clues to their possible radicalization.
The questionnaire, which was distributed by East London's Waltham Forest council to Buxton Primary School students ages 9 to 11, has been criticized for appearing to profile children at a school with a large Muslim population.
The survey is not anonymous and asks for the pupils' name, age, and year group. It requires each pupil to indicate whether they agree or disagree with statements that include:
- People from a different religion are probably just as good as people from mine
- People should be free to say what they like, even if it offends others
- It is my duty to defend my community from others that threaten it
- Women are just as good as men at work
- I would mind if a family of a different race or religion moved next door
- Religious books are to be understood word for word
Other questions ask pupils whether they trust the police and people from another race or religion. Waltham Forest has a high crime rate and poor health statistics; it also has a 22% Muslim population.
The survey is part of a European Commission-funded project called Building Resilience through Integration and Trust (BRIT), which has received a €500,000 (£360,000) grant from an EU fund, the Radicalization Leading to Terrorism Program.
The questionnaire comes three months after tough new measures to tackle radicalization became law as part of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act. The act requires professionals — including teachers, social workers, and doctors — to report to authorities potential signs of extremism and radicalization in the young people they work with.
However, the questionnaire has been viewed by many parents and community leaders as a cynical invasion into the private lives of children.
Heena Khalid, an East London human rights activist, told VICE News, "This is an invasion of privacy. It's fine to be all for community cohesion and integration, but if this is the way to do it then it's disgraceful. If there was a level of trust in the community about what the government and police do with data, then this survey wouldn't be an issue."
Khalid also questioned the validity of the answers written by children in response to the questions asked. Referring to the question, 'It is my duty to defend my community from others that threaten it,' she said, "The child probably won't take this seriously, certainly 9-year-olds don't tend to even know what's going on in the world."
Khalid added that the Muslim community has become more suspicious of schools' agendas since they have become responsible for enacting the government's counter-terrorism strategy, Prevent. She said, "Everyone now knows about schools' involvement in Prevent, so how are we to trust the data won't go any further?"
Waltham Forest councillors initially defended the questionnaire.
"The BRIT project works with primary school pupils and their families to develop community cohesion," a spokesperson told VICE News. "The project, which includes lots of different materials, is in no way directed at pupils of any particular faith."
"The survey is one very small part of a wide ranging program with children from all faiths exploring their sense of identity and belonging and reflecting on the community in which they live," the spokesperson continued. "Whilst the program is not designed to focus on controversial issues, it doesn't shy away from difficult topics or conversations."
"We're glad that this has sparked a debate as our aim is to encourage people to talk about the importance of cohesion at all ages."
However, councillor Mark Rusling later backtracked, telling BBC Radio 4, "Clearly this survey has not worked. It's a daft way of going about what is a very, very positive program."
Kathleen Wheeler, the executive head of Buxton school, said in a statement, "The school takes extremely seriously its responsibility to develop pupils' understanding of the world in which we live and our duty to create a community that is respectful of all religions, faiths and beliefs."
The UK Home Office declined to give an official statement. In a briefing to VICE News a spokesperson said, "We support communities getting involved in Prevent work and it is important that teachers have the skills to spot radicalization. It can only be a positive thing."
"This is not an issue as far as we're concerned," the office added.
Photo via Flickr