11-year-old referred to Prevent after teacher mistook ‘alms’ for ‘arms’

A school boy was referred to the government’s counter-radicalisation Prevent programme after his teacher mistook the word ‘alms’ for ‘arms’ during a classroom debate.

The 11-year-old said he would ‘give alms to the oppressed’ when the class was encouraged to talk about what they would do if they came across a lot of money. But the teacher thought the boy said ‘arms’ and referred him to Prevent.

The police dismissed the case but the family have been left traumatised by the events.

The boy’s parents have lodged a legal challenge against the school accusing it of racial and religious stereotyping. They want a written apology, monetary damages and are demanding the boy’s name be removed from any future record.

Attiq Malik, the lawyer from Liberty Law Solicitors representing the boy’s family, said the case again shows why Prevent is harmful and should be scrapped.

“Yet again we see another example of a ‘fail’ by the government’s Prevent programme on vulnerable impressionable children, highlighting why the programme is potentially harmful and needs to be scrapped as it simply does not work,” he said in a comment to Islam Channel.

“In the current economic climate, teachers are barely equipped properly to carry out their teaching duties let alone the additional policing duties imposed on them by Prevent.”

“Criminal legislation and safeguarding policies have always existed to protect the public and the vulnerable members of our society. There is no need for a policy that is nothing less than the equivalent of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut and thus unnecessary.”

The family were particularly distressed that the school failed to talk to them before making the referral.

“This has had a massive impact on us as a family,” the boy’s father is quoted in the Guardian. “My wife hasn’t slept properly since this happened. We want answers and we want justice. All pupils should be treated equally and with integrity.”

Seen by the Guardian, the school’s Prevent referral states that the boy “lives with mum and dad – attends a local mosque”.

Commentators on social media highlighted what critics of Prevent have been saying for years —  that it racially and religiously stereotypes, stigmatises and spies on the community.

“The referral by school states that the boy “lives with mum and dad –attends a local mosque”. But wait ‘there’s no stereotyping with prevent,” tweeted Sajda Mughal OBE, a survivor of the London 7/7bombings.

Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in Criminology, said in a tweet: “There will be a lot of scrutiny on the ridiculous nature of the referral. But that is missing the point, and helps to legitimise Prevent.”

“We need to focus on the enormous harm it is causing to young people. Can you imagine the long term harm of being deemed a possible terrorist?”

Prevent is part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. It works at the pre-criminal stage and the government says it aims to stop people from engaging in terrorist-related activities.

The policy has come under heavy criticism ever since its inception, particularly for the way it categorises innocuous incidents as suspicious when the person is Muslim.

The recent incident has similarities to other cases in the past. A few years ago a 4-year-old was referred to Prevent after his pronunciation of ‘cucumber’ was mistaken for a ‘cooker bomb.’

Other incidents have shown how it stifles debate with students being unnecessarily targeted and universities forced to abruptly cancel conferences and debates about Islam.

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