SCHOOLS in St Helens are increasingly flagging up concerns that pupils may be in danger of being radicalised, a council meeting has heard.

In 2019, the statutory responsibility for oversight and delivery of the Prevent agenda – part of the government’s counter terrorism strategy – transferred from Merseyside Police to local authorities.

The purpose of Prevent is to safeguard and support vulnerable people to stop them from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.

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Prevent works in a similar way to programmes designed to safeguard people from gangs and can also extend to supporting the rehabilitation and disengagement of those already involved in terrorism.

If an individual is assessed to be vulnerable to radicalisation, they may be offered support through the Channel programme, a key function of the Prevent strategy.

Channel is run in every local authority in England and Wales and addresses all types of extremism, including extreme right-wing and Islamic ideologies.

Referrals where the police assess there is a risk of radicalisation, a Channel panel, chaired by the local authority and made up of representatives from different safeguarding areas including health, education and the police, will meet to discuss and assess each case.

People who do not consent to receive support through Channel, or who decide to leave the programme before the Channel panel decides they are ready, may be offered alternative forms of support by the local authority or other providers. Any terrorist risk is managed by the police.

This week, local authority Channel coordinator Claire Wright told the People’s Board that the main referrers in St Helens over the last year have been probation services, non-policing and schools.

Ms Wright said: “Over the last year school has been a massive referrer, which then raises the question of possible further training within the local authority.

“Over the year there hasn’t been referrals from adult or children’s safeguarding.

“That’s where we need to push that training, coming from top down rather than bottom up.

“Because we are seeing consistently schools are getting the message and we see they have really good attendance on training we’ve tried to put out.”

Since April 2018, the Prevent agenda in St Helens has been led by Jen Dinsdale, the council’s head of Youth Justice and Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Team.

Ms Dinsdale was invtited to St Helens Town Hall to update the People’s Board on the Prevent agenda in St Helens and told members that low attendances to training sessions have been a “concern”.

She added that there is a particular need to get more social workers and adult and children’s safeguarding officers on board.

Ms Dinsdale, who chairs the Channel panel, said: “I just wanted to reiterate that that is key for me really, that we need to get attendance up and get it really embedded in St Helens.

“Because a lot of good work has been going on, we’ve done a lot of work to drive this forward and we can build on that.”

Cllr Jeanie Bell, cabinet member for community safety, said it was important that partners commit to “buying in” to the training and embedding it into their operations.

St Helens Star: Cllr Jeanie Bell, St Helens Council cabinet member for community safetyCllr Jeanie Bell, St Helens Council cabinet member for community safety

The Labour councillor said the training is an “essential part of safeguarding”.

Cllr Bell also said there are “significant issues” around far-right activity in the borough, with councillors increasingly hearing reports of right-wing extremism.

“Last year we had leaflets and stickers delivered across different parts of the borough promoting far-right hate groups,” Cllr Bell said.

“We’re seeing it more and more as councillors being reported to us as well.

“So, I think it’s a key area of focus for us moving forward.”

Home Office data published in December show that between April 2018 to March 2019, Prevent received 5,738 referrals across England and Wales.

The majority of referrals were men and more than half were under 20 years of age.

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Out of the total referrals, 561 referrals were adopted at Channel, the highest on record since comparable data was made available.

It is also the first time there have been more cases concerned with right-wing extremism than Islamic radicalisation.

Of the cases adopted by Channel, 254 concerned right-wing extremism while 210 cases concerned Islamic radicalisation.