A survey given to nine-year-old children to ascertain whether they may be terrorists in the making has been slammed as “Orwellian” by shocked parents. One predicted a rise in home schooling following the invasion of privacy, as neither parents or school staff were consulted before the children were interrogated.
The survey, funded via a £360,000 grant from the EU’s Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism Programme – designed to “identify the initial seeds of radicalisation with children of primary school age” – asked the children whether women are just as good as men at work, and whether it’s ok to marry someone from another religion, the Guardian has reported.
It was handed to children attending five primary schools in Waltham Forest, east London, one of the most deprived local authority areas in Britain. The population is 22 percent Muslim.
Another question asked children whether they agreed with statements such as “God has a purpose for me” and “If a student was making fun of my race or religion I would try to make them stop even if it meant hurting them.” They were also asked to pick three adjectives to describe themselves, choosing from British, Muslim, student, artist, athlete, Christian and young.
One parent took to Twitter to say: “This is shockingly Orwellian. Our kids don’t stand a chance. Guessing there’s going to be a big jump in home schooling.”
Waltham Forest Council agreed to pilot the Building Resilience Through Integration & Trust program, known as the ‘Brit’ program, which also uses lesson plans and workbooks to deliver messages on identity and belonging, in schools with a high proportion of Muslim students. The program is being delivered to schools by the charity Family Action.
Local councillors Mark Rusling and Liaquat Ali said: “The Brit project is a council programme that works with primary school pupils and their families to develop community cohesion. We’re glad this has sparked a debate, as our aim is to encourage people to talk about the importance of cohesion at all ages.”
But parents have complained that, debate aside, they were not consulted about the surveys. The parent of an 11-year-old boy who attends Buxton primary school in Leytonstone, said: “This is why we need to get involved with this, otherwise ‘monitoring’ like this goes unchecked and without vetting. No letter was sent home explaining this and I found out just talking to my son.”
Concerns were also raised by the schools as the surveys were not anonymous, asking children for their name and other identifying details on the forms. The Council has said that it will anonymise the data and then destroy the forms, but school staff say that’s just not good enough.
Buxton School’s executive headteacher Kath Wheeler and chair of governors Tom Williams have issued a joint statement, in which they apologise for “causing distress and worry to student, parents and carers, and others in the community who have raised very real and well founded concerns.” An internal investigation has also been launched.
“When we agreed to run the Brit project on behalf of Waltham Forest Council, we were not made aware that this questionnaire would be included. If we had, current procedures would have identified concerns from the outset as this involved potentially identifiable and sensitive information,” they said.
The surveys had been sent directly to a junior member of staff co-ordinating the project and had not been seen by the leadership team, the statement read. “The local authority has confirmed their intention was to anonymise and then destroy the questionnaires,” it said. “Despite this we will not be taking part in this method of evaluation now or in the future.”