Education & Family

Heads warn they are not 'counter-terror experts'

Three schoolgirls, caught on airport cameras, were believed to have travelled to Syria in February Image copyright PA
Image caption Three schoolgirls, caught on airport cameras, were believed to have travelled to Syria in February

Head teachers cannot be expected to be "counter-terrorism experts" or "conduct surveillance" on young people, said a head teachers' leader.

Russell Hobby was responding to warnings that more young people from the UK could travel to the conflict in Syria during the school holidays.

He said schools would alert parents and "appropriate authorities" if they found evidence of extremism.

"We cannot reasonably expect schools to perform police functions," he said.

Mr Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said that schools would respond to any information they received, but would need the support of other agencies, if young people vulnerable to extremism were to be identified and intercepted.

He was responding to warnings from a senior prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, that some schools feared the Easter holidays would be used as a time for radicalised pupils to try to join the conflict in Syria.

'Duty of protection'

Mr Afzal, who stepped down this week as chief prosecutor for north-west England, said two London head teachers had raised such concerns with him:

"They are worried that some of their children and some of the people they have care over will not be there when they return from the Easter break - and that must worry us all."

In February, three schoolgirls from Bethnal Green Academy in east London disappeared from their homes and flew to Turkey. They are believed to have crossed into Syria.

Head teachers' leader Mr Hobby said that where there was evidence of extremism or plans to travel to Syria heads would act, but there were limits to what could be expected of schools.

"Schools' duty of protection involves educating people well and sharing what information they do have with other agencies.

"Beyond that, they need clear guidance and somewhere to turn to for help. We cannot reasonably expect schools to perform police functions."

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