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The Prevent Duty in Early Years

Sam Sach, Early Years Assessor
7 Sep 2023
5 min read
The Prevent Duty in Early Years

If you have been around, or looking into, the Early Years Sector in the UK for any significant period of time then you will likely have come across the terms “prevent” “British values” and “cultural capital”, but what exactly do these terms mean? Why are they important to Early Years roles? And what do they look like when it comes to real-life on-the-ground practice?

The Prevent Duty

Part of the government’s overall counter-terrorism strategy called 'CONTEST', the aim of Prevent Duty is to reduce the threat from terrorism by stopping people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. The ‘Prevent Duty’ is underpinned by a piece of legislation called the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act (2015).

Terrorism is defined by the Terrorism Act (2006) as violent action or threat designed to influence the government or intimidate the public. Its purpose is to advance a political, religious or ideological cause. In the UK, violent action can include serious action against another person, endangering someone else’s life or causing serious damage to property. Violent action can also involve creating a serious risk to public health and safety or interfering with, or seriously disrupting, electronic systems.

As we have seen, the definition of terrorism is quite broad but it is nearly always rooted in extremism, which is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values. It can also include calls for the death of members of the British armed forces (HM Government, 2011).

Prevent Duty is particularly important for Early Years, as it legally applies to all registered childcare providers.


So, what does preventing terrorism have to do with Safeguarding? We tend to think of safeguarding as protecting children from harm and abuse, and might not realise that those who are drawn into terrorism are usually being exploited in some way.

People looking to draw others into terrorism are usually able to play on specific vulnerabilities to motivate them; these include being isolated, having low self-esteem, experiencing poverty and disadvantage, experiencing trauma, or being poorly integrated into society. These vulnerabilities can be exploited by extremist groups through a process called radicalisation.


Radicalisation is the process through which a person comes to support or be involved in extremist ideologies and/or terrorism. There are some common signs of radicalisation that might be noticed which include the individual isolating themselves from their family and friends, being unwilling to discuss their views and speaking in a way that sounds like they are reading from a script. Increased levels of anger and a disrespectful attitude towards others, changes in behaviour, changes in appearance or even wearing or drawing symbols associated with extremist groups are other signs.

In Early Years we might notice this more with parents/carers and other family members like older siblings. For example, we might have a parent who begins to tell us about political views, speaking as though they are reading something out.

With our toddlers and young children we might notice drawings of signs, symbols or violence, or hear language that concerns us. Sometimes we might notice them acting out experiences that they have had at rallies or meetings with extremist groups.

It’s also important to remember that the Prevent Duty applies in our relationships with other members of staff. In Early Years, we must know how to act on any concerns and be able to do so promptly.

Acting on concerns

Your first port of call when working in Early Years will be your Designated Safeguarding Lead. A concern related to terrorism or extremism will be reported in the same way as any other safeguarding concern; you will record exactly what you have seen, or what has been said, and take this information to the safeguarding lead or their deputy.

The DSL should then get in touch with the local Prevent Team to discuss their concerns and if necessary, make a referral to the Channel programme which is an early intervention, multi-agency approach which does not criminalise people who are being radicalised but instead helps to support them and safeguard them from being drawn into terrorism. The Channel programme aims to reinforce British Values.

British Values

Much of the work we do under the Prevent duty is, as the name might suggest, preventative. In Early Years, this includes promoting British Values throughout the setting. We must also aim to build “cultural capital” which is knowledge and values that children will need to thrive in modern Britain. Promoting British Values and supporting the development of British Values can help children to feel like they belong to a collective group which can in turn prevent them from being vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism.

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