Prevent This

Why did British counter-extremism authorities tell a London primary school that “it would be best to ignore” my freedom of information request? I’ve asked local council

Earlier this year I blogged about Bevington Primary School, whose head teacher sent a letter that appeared to threaten to report a Muslim father to counter-extremism authorities because he asked that his child be removed from Christmas assembly, and because he was allegedly “rude and aggressive” towards staff at the school.

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The school refused my request for comment, so in January I filed a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for correspondence between head teacher Karen Matthews and local counter-extremism authorities.

E-mails obtained via my request show that Matthews contacted Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s Prevent education officer Jake Butterworth for advice after a redacted version of the letter was published on the Islam21c website in late December 2016.

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Under the UK government’s controversial Prevent strategy, schools are legally required to “protect children from the risk of radicalisation” and “to report suspicious behaviour.”

During their correspondence, Matthews asked Butterworth about how to respond to my request. In his response, Butterworth told Matthews that “ideally it would be best to ignore this request so this unpleasant and incorrect story goes away,” but that he didn’t want the school “in trouble with the ICO [Information Commissioner’s Office].”

When asked why he would’ve preferred had Matthews ignored my request, Butterworth said his e-mail to Matthews “clearly states that the FOI request should be responded to,” and that “the information has subsequently been released by the school.

When I again asked Butterworth to clarify what he meant by “ideally it would be best to ignore” my request, I didn’t receive a reply.

I’ve asked Hammersmith and Fulham Council if it subscribes to the view that “ideally it would be best” for schools and other public bodies to ignore FOI requests, but for the legal requirements enforced by the ICO; and if, given the lack of transparency around Prevent, the council believes that Butterworth’s advice about this matter was good advice.

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