More than 250 people in Wales have been flagged up as vulnerable to be drawn into terrorism, it has emerged.

The figures are revealed in a report from education watchdog Estyn published today. It shows just under half of the 258 people referred to the authorities between March 2018 and March 2019 were aged 20 and under and that most of all referrals were via schools, colleges and universities.

Worrying cases of far right wing and religious extremism in schools are detailed in the report drawn up at the request of Education Minister Kirsty Williams, but most of the cases of fanaticism are around “unclear ideology", with just 15% classed as Islamic and 24% as right wing.

Schools should "acknowledge that radicalisation and extremism are real risks to pupils in all schools," the report warned.

Darren Osborne, 48, of Glyn Rhosyn in Cardiff, has been found guilty of murder and attempted murder
Darren Osborne, 48, of Glyn Rhosyn in Cardiff, was found guilty of murder and attempted murder and jailed for life after deliberately ploughing a van into Muslim worshippers in London

On top of this objections from parents and teachers are leading to pupils in a minority of schools not being taught about Islam or allowed to visit mosques, the report showed.

And it warned that a minority of school leaders don’t see the relevance of radicalisation and extremism to their school “which could lead to missed opportunities to identify and address early concerns”.

Of the 258 people referred under the Whitehall government’s anti-terrorism Prevent strategy, between March 2018 and March 2019, 64 were aged under 15 and 80 were aged between 15 and 20.

Estyn’s report - Prevent: how well maintained schools implement their duties under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 - scrutinises the work done to protect young people at risk of being radicalised in any way.

It shows worries passed on to counter terrorism panel Channel by schools through the Prevent programme included pupils: 

Schools also asked what to do following the conviction of a family member for terrorist related offences and about parents withdrawing pupils from certain activities.

Aseel Muthana (left) and his brother Nasser Muthana both left their homes in Cardiff to join Isis in Syria

In one school, a pupil wrote an answer in a mock exam suggesting he may have extremist views.

“The exam invigilator noted the incident on the school’s pupil tracking system,” the report said.

“A different member of staff was concerned about the same pupil’s comments in a religious education lesson and noted this on the school system. “Alongside other information submitted by other staff, the school’s leaders were able to identify that this pupil was vulnerable to being radicalised and took swift steps to work with external partners to ensure that the pupil received support and intervention.”

In another school, staff noticed one pupil’s attitudes and language were  increasingly critical of anyone not from a white ethnic background.

A piece of his course work writing contained “strong nationalistic and oppressive ideology”.  When this was investigated it was found the pupil had recently had a lot of contact with a close family member who was radicalised and had recently been released from prison.

The report also noted that in one local authority area in Wales, the growth in extreme far right activity, including the establishment of local youth groups, has been a cause for concern.

To counter this a twinning project between primary schools in neighbouring council areas was launched to give children the chance to meet others from different backgrounds.

Also highlighted are parents’ and teachers’ objections which have led to pupils in some schools not being taken to visit a mosque or learning about Islam.

“In a minority of schools, teaching about Islam is not included in the religious education curriculum. The most common reasons for this are because of pupils’ resistance to learning about Islam, parental objections to its inclusion in the curriculum, or teaching staff not wishing to teach this subject.

“In one school, almost half the parents objected to their children vising a local mosque as part of their course. This was due to parental views about Islam.

“This deprives pupils of the opportunity to learn about a major religion, what its followers believe, and its historical and current impact on significant global issues.

“Further, following terrorist incidents within the UK in recent years, a minority of schools have avoided lessons that might touch on sensitive issues such as inter-racial matters, recent terrorist activity, or challenge attitudes expressed at home.”

However, causes of extremism are not easy to pin down the document said.

“It would not be correct to suggest that the focus of Prevent activity is primarily on Muslim communities or on White communities in Wales”.

It goes on: “Radicalisation to violent extremism can take place in the most unexpected places.

“There has been an increase in individuals attracted to violence where the specific ideology driving the behaviour is less clear.

“This is often referred to as the ‘Columbine effect’ so named after the Columbine school massacre in the USA in 1992.”

Incidents with unclear ideologies now account for 49% of referrals.

While most schools in Wales understand their responsibilities in safeguarding against radicalisation, they need to use the curriculum more to give pupils the skills to identify potential influences that might put them at risk of exploitation, the report added.

A raft of recommendations includes that schools should "acknowledge that radicalisation and extremism are real risks to pupils in all schools, and ensure that staff training, policies and the curriculum suitably address these risks."

Protecting pupils from radicalisation and extremism is part of the wider safeguarding duties of schools and teachers.

When a pupil is feared at risk of radicalisation and extremism, schools may follow this up by an informal discussion with or by formal referral to the local Channel panel, which involves partners from the local authority, police, education, health providers, and others.

Prevent and Channel explained

The Home Office said on its website: “The purpose of Prevent is to safeguard vulnerable people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism, by engaging with people who are vulnerable to radicalisation and protecting those who are being targeted by terrorist recruiters.

“Channel is a voluntary, confidential programme which operates throughout England and Wales to safeguard people identified as vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

“Referring possible cases of early stage radicalisation works in a similar way to safeguarding processes designed to protect people from gang activity, drugs, and physical/sexual abuse.”

Jassa Scott, strategic director for Estyn said schools should be alert to bullying, particularly racist language and inter-racial conflict “which can indicate radical or extremist views”.

The report’s author Gerard Kerslake said Welsh Government guidance supports schools to understand their duties but recommends local authorities and consortia work together to teach pupils how to be resilient when confronted with radicalised and extremist influences.

He said these skills could be used across the board and also help address issues such as child sexual exploitation and young people being groomed into joining so-called county lines drug gangs.

The sensitive nature of the subject means individual schools and local authorities have not been identified in the report, Estyn said.

Eithne Hughes, Director of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) Cymru, said: "It is clear that schools have been left to fight this battle without adequate support.

"The report finds that local authorities and consortia have not worked together well enough in supporting curriculum development and that teachers lack easy access to training and guidance. This situation must be improved.

“We are surprised and concerned to hear that a minority of school leaders do not perceive radicalisation and extremism as relevant to their school or surrounding area. Our experience is that school leaders are highly conscious of these threats and alert to signs of pupils being drawn into extreme ideologies."

A Welsh government spokesman said: “The new curriculum for Wales will focus on providing learners with the skills and experiences to develop effective decision-making and critically evaluate the information they are exposed to, including online.

“We have provided funding to the Welsh Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit and partners to develop resources to prevent radicalisation, to be delivered in schools by School Beat officers.

“We have accepted the report’s recommendation and will continue to work with our partners to support schools in building learners’ resilience when confronted with radicalised and extremist influences.”