Racism, Islamophobia and conspiracy theories amongst extremist views widespread across classrooms

A majority of teachers have heard students express extremist views including racism, homophobia and conspiracy theories in classrooms across England, a study suggests.

But schools are unable to tackle extremism in young people due to a lack of resources and training, as well as limited space in the curriculum, a report by the University College London (UCL) found.

The study collated views from 96 teachers across schools in England, with the majority saying they have heard pupils express far-right extremist views in the classroom, as well as Islamophobia and “extremist views about women”.

Nearly nine in 10 say they have heard conspiracy theories being discussed by students – including the theory that Bill Gates “controls people via microchips in Covid vaccines”.

Almost all teachers say they have overheard “hateful extremism” through racist views.

There is also concern amongst staff about students’ exposure to hateful content and misinformation online, which it is feared has increased throughout the pandemic.

Many teachers told the researchers they did not broach the subject of extremism within the classroom as they felt they did not have enough knowledge of particular issues, and were fearful they will get matters – especially relating to race – wrong.

The report calls for teachers to be given better training to lead open discussions in the classroom about extremism, so that they are better equipped to teach young people how to reject, and respond to, dangerous ideologies.

It said: “Much anti-extremism work is well-meaning but is stymied by overcrowded curricula, a lack of resources, a desire to perform policy for Ofsted, and a mandate to detect and report vulnerability to radicalisation rather than necessarily stamp out its root cause.”

The report, published days before the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, was commissioned by education charity Since 9/11, which said the findings were a “wake-up call”.

It says there is an urgent need to provide schools with the training and tools to teach pupils how to reject extremist views.

“Dangerous ideologies must never be swept under the carpet,” it added.

The report’s researchers have also called for more support through the education sector, as well as in local communities to tackle extremist views within young people.

Dr Becky Taylor, from the UCL Centre for Teachers and Teaching Research, said: “This report shows that some schools fail to move beyond surface-level explorations of violence, extremism and radicalisation; however, it is without doubt that schools can play an important role.”

She added: “Education policies must consider the fact that some schools may need more help than others to build on what they already have in place.

“Engaging well with their local communities and ensuring that schools and teachers are supported and appropriately resourced can help young people to problematise ‘hateful extremism’.”