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Pupils wearing pro-Palestinian badges referred to counter-terror scheme – union

The union’s conference heard that children had been referred to Prevent for wearing badges (Victoria Jones/PA)
The union’s conference heard that children had been referred to Prevent for wearing badges (Victoria Jones/PA)

Pupils who wear pro-Palestinian badges and stickers are being referred to the Government’s counter-terror programme, a teaching union has said.

The number of referrals for pupils “showing solidarity with Palestine” to Prevent – a scheme to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism – has risen, the National Education Union (NEU) has suggested.

Delegates at the union’s annual conference in Bournemouth on Thursday spoke of “troubling developments” around pupils wanting to express their solidarity with the Palestinian people – and discussions being shut down.

A motion, which was passed at the conference, called on the NEU to publish educational resources to “increase understanding of Palestine and Israel” and reaffirm its support for the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC).

Delegates at the conference of the NEU, the largest education union in the UK, backed the motion which accused Israel’s government of being “racist” and the “main driver” of the conflict, violence and war.

The ongoing war in Gaza was sparked by Hamas’s deadly raid into Israel on October 7 that killed 1,200 people and saw militants seize about 250 hostages.

Israel’s retaliatory strikes have left more than 30,000 Palestinians dead, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

Last week, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan criticised the union’s motion on Palestine, calling it “wholly inappropriate” and she warned it would cause “significant hurt to members of the Jewish community”.

She added that teachers have “a duty to remain politically impartial and to ensure all sides of contested views are presented fairly” and without bias.

But delegates at the conference hit back at the minister’s comments on Thursday during a heated debate on Palestine.

Debs Gwynn, proposer of the motion, said: “This union is appalled that this Government seeks to criminalise people speaking out against the injustices of Palestine by dragging them through the racist Prevent programme.

“This union will take no lectures from Gillian Keegan and this racist Government on what is and what is not appropriate.”

National Education Union (NEU) annual conference
Daniel Kebede has called for a lasting ceasefire (James Manning/PA)

Ahead of the motion, Dr Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the UK, addressed the delegates about the situation in Gaza.

Delegates gave Dr Zomlot a standing ovation for his speech to the conference and some chanted “free, free Palestine” and waved Palestinian flags.

One delegate shouted “from the river to the sea” and others chanted back, “Palestine will be free”.

The motion on Palestine, which was carried at the NEU’s conference, added: “There has been a rise in the number of Prevent referrals for pupils showing solidarity with Palestine.

“Referrals have been made for such things as wearing Palestinian Solidarity Campaign badges and stickers.”

Delegate Vendathal Premkumar, from Redbridge, in north east London, said: “Our union group became concerned at the way silence was imposed on staff and students alike soon after the war in Palestine started.

“We were banned from having discussions. Students were told that teachers will not be comfortable discussing the topic.

“This was very far from the truth as our union group felt it was our duty as educators to help our students navigate this difficult and sensitive topic.”

Delegate Mat Milovanovic, from Ealing in west London, spoke of “troubling developments” around pupils wanting to express their “grief and solidarity” for people being killed in Gaza.

He said: “Classrooms should be safe spaces for students to discuss any topic and safely raise different points of view that are based on mutual respect for every person involved in the discussion.

“If students, and particularly Muslim students, are too scared to express their views because of fear of being referred to Prevent then they could well find solace in darker areas of the internet from deeply problematic sources.”

Mr Milovanovic told the conference: “In the past few terms at my school, my colleagues and I have expressed solidarity with Palestinians wearing lanyards, badges and taking group photos calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.”

He suggested the school staff could face possible investigation “on the grounds that we do not meet our obligation of political impartiality”.

Mr Milovanovic said: “As educators are we not obliged to model and demonstrate compassion and decency? Are we not obliged to show our students how to stand up for what’s right and just?

“Should we not be a source of comfort and support the child who has expressed their grief by wearing a flag?”

But some delegates spoke out against the motion during the debate.

Peter Block, from Barnet, in north west London, who opposed the motion, was heckled after he likened the conference to “an anti-Zionist rally”.

He accused fellow delegates of uncritically jumping on the anti-Israel bandwagon and said it amounted it to “a glorification of Hamas”.

Delegate John Connolly, from Blackpool, who spoke against the motion, said it would be a “mistake” to back the motion as it would “lessen” the union’s voice.

He said: “By choosing to ignore the Hamas attack in October, we reduce our ability to criticise Israel’s disproportionate response.

“By choosing to label Israeli government as racist and applying apartheid policies, we reduce our ability to be seen as a fair and reasonable organisation.”

Daniel Kebede, general secretary of the NEU, said: “The NEU today reiterates its call for an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza and for justice and equality for the Palestinian people.

“The relentless Israeli bombardment of Gaza has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians since October 7, over 70% of whom are women and children.

“Children should not pay the price of war. Yet more children have been killed in Gaza in four months than in four years of worldwide wars according to the UN.”

He added: “Women and children are also among those held hostage by Hamas. The NEU is unequivocal in its condemnation of the abhorrent attacks carried out by Hamas on October 7.

“We call for the immediate, safe and unconditional release of all hostages.”