Prevent Duty for FE/HE: Current position (July 2015)

With Parliament now on its summer break, the legal position under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 is unlikely to change till September. That makes this a good time for HE and FE providers in England, Wales and Scotland (the duty doesn’t cover Northern Ireland – see s51(1)) to review the guidance that has been published and plan what they will need to do to implement the duty when it comes into force for them (expected to be later in the year). It’s probably also a good opportunity to get in touch with relevant authorities in your area: local Prevent coordinators are working with HE & FE groups in some areas, police forces have Counter-Terrorism Local Profiles (CTLPs) that can be used to inform individual organisations’ risk assessments.

The Home Office have just re-organised their guidance published in March into sector-specific documents, covering FE, HE and rest of public sector (for whom the duty came into force on 1st July). Each exists in separate versions for England/Wales and Scotland, making six July documents in total, though most education providers will only need to concentrate on one of them. The July documents, which formally need to be approved by Parliament, add guidance on visiting speakers (analysed in the Times Higher), but otherwise just reproduce the already approved texts from March (with a couple of terminology changes) so work already done based on the March documents should still be valid.

For FE, though the legal duty under the new Act doesn’t yet apply, OFSTED have incorporated it into their inspection regime in England. Detailed guidance is available from them, and there’s also an extensive range of material available from the Education and Training Foundation. It seems likely that Wales and Scotland will require similar measures.

For HE, the legal duty won’t come into force until Parliament votes on this, probably in the autumn. The monitoring bodies for England and Wales haven’t yet been appointed, though in Scotland it appears that role will be taken by existing Contest Multi-Agency Partnerships. However the Home Office guidance refers to existing guidance from Universities UK on the conduct of sensitive research, safe campuses, and visiting speakers, as well as from the Charity and Equality Commssions. These should be reviewed as part of organisations’ preparation – in particular assigning high-level responsibilities, establishing contact with relevant authorities and starting on risk assessment.

We’ve been asked a couple of questions about the duty’s implications for ICT, which forms a small part of the Home Office guidance. The guidance emphasises that the duty builds on existing good practice and doesn’t seem to call for significant changes: if organisations already use filtering to protect users from other types of harmful material it suggests they “consider” whether this can also contribute to their Prevent duty, but there seems to be no expectation that organisations will start to use filters just for this purpose. There is a recommendation that the statutory duty be mentioned in IT Policies. Although I’ve not found any further guidance on this, it seems most likely that the duty would be one of the factors motivating organisations’ Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs), rather than a specific requirement on individual users. Many AUPs state their purpose as ensuring that ICT services are used to further the organisation’s education and research purposes, and in accordance with the law. In this context it might be advisable to refer specifically to the organisation’s new legal duty to “have due regard to prevent people being drawn into terrorism”.

By Andrew Cormack

I'm Chief Regulatory Advisor at Jisc, responsible for keeping an eye out for places where our ideas, services and products might raise regulatory issues. My aim is to fix either the product or service, or the regulation, before there's a painful bump!

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