Helping children and young people build Resilience through Religious Education – within the context of the Prevent duty, SMSC and British values A personal reflection from Jonathan Marshall

This paper sets out to remind teachers of their extended safeguarding role, which since July 2015, must include the Prevent duty. But it goes on to explore the significant contribution schools can make in helping pupils develop resilience. Initially, as highlighted within the Prevent duty context but increasingly, for today, as a key life skill and as I would like to suggest, as part of good quality Religious Education.

To clarify what the Prevent duty is and what it means for schools and especially for teachers of Religious Education, some extracts from the Department for Education provide the background:

“The Prevent duty – departmental advice for schools and childcare providers” June 2015…

From July 2015 all schools and Early and Later Years childcare providers are subject to a duty under Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. This duty is known as the Prevent duty and it applies to a wide range of public facing bodies to have, during the exercise of their functions, due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Protecting children from the risk of radicalisation, from whatever source, should be seen as part of schools’ and childcare providers’ wider safeguarding duties and is similar in nature to protecting children from other harms (e.g. drugs, gangs, neglect, sexual exploitation) whether they come from within their family or are the product of outside influence.

The advice goes on to state that the Prevent duty is, “…entirely consistent with schools’ and childcare providers’ existing responsibilities and should not be burdensome.”

Furthermore, “Schools and childcare providers are in a particularly influential place to help build pupils’ resilience to all forms of radicalisation by promoting fundamental British values enabling them to challenge extremist views.”

(Promoting British values is now part of the Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural (SMSC) curriculum in schools. See The Department for Education: “Promoting fundamental British values as part of SMSC in schools.” November 2014)

British values first appeared within the Prevent Strategy in 2011 and were adopted as part of Teachers’ Standards the following year, so they are not new.

Extremism is defined as, vocal or active opposition to these values.

The advice emphasises that the Prevent duty is not intended to stop pupils debating controversial issues either, “…on the contrary, schools should provide a safe space in which these issues can be discussed.”

The statutory guidance refers to the importance of…”Prevent awareness training to equip staff to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and to challenge extremist ideas. The Home Office has developed a core training product for this purpose – Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent (WRAP) Individual schools are best placed to assess their training needs in the light of their assessment of the risk. As a minimum, however, schools should ensure that their Designated Safeguarding Lead undertakes Prevent awareness training and is able to provide support and advice to other members of staff on protecting children from the risk of radicalisation.”

Let us remember though, that the chance of someone in my school, in my classroom, being drawn into violent extremism is rare, it is a small risk but it remains a risk and we must be aware and vigilant.

All teachers therefore, have responsibility for this safeguarding role and some will be best placed to also address the related issues and big questions around free speech, radicalisation and terrorism, often within a PSHE/Citizenship/RE “safe space” context.

In addition, however, I would like to offer some thoughts on how RE teachers are uniquely placed to offer something more, to better equip young people with awareness, understanding and most importantly, resilience.

It is intended that by promoting the fundamental British values we will help build resilience, acting as an antidote to the dangers of being drawn into extremism which leads to violence and harm, not only to the vulnerable young person but also to wider society. We have seen some tragic examples of this over recent years and, indeed, we have our own local, Devon based, example in the late Nicky Reilly. Reilly was self-radicalised over the internet and left Plymouth by bus, in May 2008, with a home-made bomb in his rucksack, intending to blow up the Giraffe restaurant in Exeter. Fortunately, for the thirty or so people in the restaurant that lunchtime, the device exploded, prematurely, in the face of Reilly, as he was preparing for his attack. He was serving a long prison sentence when, sadly, he was found dead in his cell in October 2016.

What made Nicky Reilly vulnerable to being drawn into violent extremism? There is no easy answer. He had special educational needs, mental health problems and his father and brother had both been in prison. But there is no check list for a would-be terrorist, whether influenced by extreme right wing or AQ/ISIS ideology and propaganda. Later in the same year as Reilly’s crime, two doctors tried to blow up Glasgow airport. In what ways were they vulnerable?

However, there are some common themes. During the Second World war, Goebbels, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister said that every individual German, who was not part of the Nazi movement, was like a worm and that the purpose of propaganda was to make the little worm feel that he/she could become part of a great, invincible dragon.

For some who are especially vulnerable, the immense power of the call is too overwhelming and allied with the personal and human need for meaning and purpose, belonging and truth it can become irresistible. Recent accounts of the London based, so-called, “Jihadi brides,” supports this further.

There will usually be clues that someone is moving along the path to radicalisation and part of the awareness training, is to alert us to them but the same signs can be indications of a whole range of other concerns, not necessarily related to radicalisation or terrorism. But our help may still be needed, so, either way, it doesn’t matter. The young person will be supported.

With attention drawn to the Prevent duty safeguarding role, it is easy to neglect the significant contribution schools can make in helping pupils become more resilient to being drawn into violent extremism, in whatever form. Resilient to being drawn into those forms of behaviour which seek to split communities and divide individuals and groups. This will also include the kind of language and behaviour which fails to respect and acknowledge diversity and the dignity of every person.

Lord Sacks put it powerfully when he said that, “We are as a big or as small as the space we make for others who are not like us.” This is a very helpful measure of our humanity. A violent extremist, motivated by any cause, religious or political, is not prepared to cede to “the other” any space, respect or understanding.

Although the term “resilience” is to be understood within the Prevent duty context, it now has a far wider application and benefit, as schools are aware. And this is timely. Resilience is identified as a key study skill in Building Learning Power. Schools are encouraged to help their pupils become resilient learners, with the ability to bounce back no matter what the difficulties and challenges they may face.

Resilience requires pupils to become digitally resilient; discriminating users of a wide range of on-line devices and social media forums. (see Resilience for the Digital World – Young Minds, a leading mental health charity for young people; Children’s exposure to unacceptable forms of pornography, violence and abuse is a constant worry and concern for schools, parents and society.

Resilience to the attraction of inappropriate and destructive drug and alcohol use has led the family of the late Amy Winehouse to found the Amy Winehouse Foundation and to inaugurate a Resilience Programme for secondary school students across the country. (

In a rapidly changing and stressful world the need for resilience is clear. The ability to adapt, to establish an internal locus of control and support; to be able to bounce back and not be defined and controlled, overwhelmingly, by powerful external circumstances is great.

It is a cause of great sadness that despite the improved physical health, learning opportunities, social conditions and material well-being most of our young people enjoy, their mental health is deteriorating and cases of depression, anxiety, stress and self-harm have all increased drastically over the past decade. (See the work of school-based children’s mental health charity Place2Be, and their annual Children’s mental health Week programmes –

It is therefore imperative that our young people can recognise their own latent, inner resources and be able to deploy them. It is urgent that they learn how to cultivate an inner strength so as to combat whatever life throws at them. But how can we help them?

Before exploring this further, let us remember how Religious Education, and this need for resilience, fits within the central aims of the National Curriculum, which states that:

“Every state funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based and which; promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, (SMSC) mental and physical development of pupils and; prepares them, at school, for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.”

If there was a need to justify the inclusion of RE in the curriculum, the very aims of the National Curriculum call for it.

It is also important to clarify what the terms Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural mean and what Ofsted expects of schools and teachers in helping children promote and develop them. This gets to the very heart of the National Curriculum, and in so doing, provides further evidence of the importance and inclusion of Religious Education, as a major contributor to SMSC development.

The current “School Inspection Handbook” Ofsted – August 2016…

Defining spiritual, moral, social and cultural development

  1. The spiritual development of pupils is shown by their:
  • ability to be reflective about their own beliefs, religious or otherwise, that inform their perspective on life and their interest in and respect for different people’s faiths, feelings and values
  • sense of enjoyment and fascination in learning about themselves, others and the world around them
  • use of imagination and creativity in their learning
  • willingness to reflect on their experiences.
  1. The moral development of pupils is shown by their:
  • ability to recognise the difference between right and wrong and to readily apply this understanding in their own lives, recognise legal boundaries and, in so doing, respect the civil and criminal law of England
  • understanding of the consequences of their behaviour and actions
  • interest in investigating and offering reasoned views about moral and ethical issues and ability to understand and appreciate the viewpoints of others on these issues.
  1. The social development of pupils is shown by their:
    • use of a range of social skills in different contexts, for example working and socialising with other pupils, including those from different religious, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds
    • willingness to participate in a variety of communities and social settings, including by volunteering, cooperating well with others and being able to resolve conflicts effectively
  • acceptance and engagement with the fundamental British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs; they develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain.


  1. The cultural development of pupils is shown by their:
  • understanding and appreciation of the wide range of cultural influences that have shaped their own heritage and those of others
  • understanding and appreciation of the range of different cultures within school and further afield as an essential element of their preparation for life in modern Britain
  • knowledge of Britain’s democratic parliamentary system and its central role in shaping our history and values, and in continuing to develop Britain
  •  willingness to participate in and respond positively to artistic, musical, sporting and cultural opportunities
  •  interest in exploring, improving understanding of and showing respect for different faiths and cultural diversity and the extent to which they understand, accept, respect and celebrate diversity, as shown by their tolerance and attitudes towards different religious, ethnic and socio-economic groups in the local, national and global communities.

I have highlighted in italics the Fundamental British values as they are set out, under “Social” but they can also be found in the other areas as well, of course. There is a great deal of overlap. Note though the phrase following the statement of British values; they develop and demonstrate skills and attitudes that will allow them to participate fully in and contribute positively to life in modern Britain.

This is central to what is hoped for as the outcome from this curriculum development; complete engagement and a life lived to the full.

But now to the other function of promoting fundamental British values as part of the Prevent duty; how can they help children and young people build resilience?

Personally, I would hope and suggest that if a young person has been exposed to such values and who has come to know them through genuine lived experience at school as well as at home; if this young person knows the value of respect and understanding for those with different beliefs, faiths and cultures, where compassion for the “other” is real; if this young person has experienced a deep sense of belonging, beyond boundaries of notional difference. Then it is difficult to imagine that this young person will heed the call, from whatever source, to become part of a great, invincible dragon!

But as with all values, whether they are British, human, spiritual or universal; they can only be taught effectively by those who live and practise them authentically. For only then will they be truly learnt and lived by those who receive them.

The need for resilience is now widespread and more urgent. With a little reframing, which is itself an important dimension of resilience, we may recognize this vital life skill as one we have been concerned with in Religious Education since its beginning.

Resilience is not a word that usually pops up in RE or religion. As we have seen, it has to do with a certain kind of inner strength, buoyancy; the ability to stand on solid ground within oneself. It is, therefore, a good RE word! And though clothed in a different language and context, I would contend that resilience is a key aspect and outcome of spiritual development.

Resilience can only arise when a certain kind of inner strength has already been established. No longer entirely influenced by the lure of passing fads, fashions and pressures, one is moved and directed by other, more transcendent views and universal human values. In being resilient, there is the confidence too, that wiser choices will follow and that one will live more wisely and compassionately.

It has to be said however, that there is little support for this Spiritual-Resilience connection to be found within the current definitions of “spiritual,” as offered by Ofsted, above. This guidance falls lamentably short of what is useful for schools and teachers who face the challenge of preparing pupils for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of adult life. Previous guidance was much more helpful in capturing the power and impact of the “spiritual” and its “resilience building” quality. Perhaps Ofsted could be reminded of their own previous advice and guidance as this would provide teachers with a much clearer and fertile area of exploration, so needed by their pupils today. Perhaps too, the profound importance of this work could be valued more highly and vocally for it lies at the very heart of the twin aims of the National Curriculum.

However, there is more challenging and helpful advice available from Ofsted to help teachers unpack what is meant by “spiritual development” and most importantly, how to help children develop it. The advice also has an implicit “resilience-building” thread running through. It offers real help for teachers in planning learning activities and outcomes in a notoriously difficult and challenging area of the curriculum. Not only useful within RE it provides greater understanding of the crucial role spiritual development and resilience bring in helping children and young people prepare for life in a complex and often perplexing world. The characteristics of spiritual development described below are much more helpful than the bland generalisations of the current guidance, above. They enable us to appreciate how we may approach the spiritual, without trying to imprison it by definition. For it is often easier and more helpful to describe its different features and characteristics. This more thought provoking approach to spirituality (and indeed resilience-building) now needs to be revived.

Promoting and Evaluating pupils’ SMSC – Ofsted 2004

“Pupils who are developing spiritually are likely to be developing some or all of the following characteristics:

  • a set of values and beliefs, which may or may not be religious, which inform their perspective on life and their patterns of behaviour
  • an awareness and understanding of their own and others’ beliefs
  • a respect for themselves and for others
  • a sense of empathy with others, concern and compassion
  • an increasing ability to reflect and learn from this reflection
  • an ability to show courage and persistence in the defence of their aims, values, principles and beliefs
  • a readiness to challenge all that would constrain the human spirit; for example, poverty of aspiration, lack of self-confidence and belief, moral neutrality or indifference, force, fanaticism, aggression, greed, injustice, narrowness of vision, self-interest, sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination
  • an appreciation of the intangible – for example, beauty, truth, love, goodness, order – as well as for mystery, paradox and ambiguity
  • a respect for insight as well as for knowledge and reason
  • an expressive and/or creative impulse
  • an ability to think in terms of the “whole” – for example, concepts such a harmony, interdependence, scale, perspective
  • an understanding of feelings and emotions and their likely impact”.


Spiritual can therefore mean active participation in challenging, “all that would constrain the human spirit” including “fanaticism, aggression…racism and other forms of discrimination.” Spirituality means being active in the world; it is not merely about being passive, reflective and not upsetting anyone. Spirituality can bite! And it is developed from the mobilisation of inner resources and strength, harnessed through the practise of those values which transcend individual self- interest.

This is the kind of spiritual development we want to encourage; the kind of resilience we want to help our young people build in their lives. Our Plymouth Agreed Syllabus for Religious Education reflects this concern and states that; “RE should also promote and encourage a deepening appreciation of the spiritual and its value in providing young people with the opportunity to identify and cultivate inner resources and a growing sense of an inner life; indispensable tools for the journey through life.” (Engaging with Religion and Worldviews – Plymouth SACRE 2014)

My hope is that this reflection has drawn attention to the situation and plight our young people face and the urgent need for adults, both teachers and parents, to help them develop those inner resources so desperately needed for the journey ahead into adult life. Of course, we cannot give a spiritual experience to anyone, though we can and should be creating the opportunities for it. In fact it is essential that young people have the chance to experience something of the spiritual and to awaken the potential for resilience.

A few years ago and mindful of the enormous challenges facing young people as they move into adult life, The Children’s Society published “A Good Childhood – searching for values in a competitive age” 2009.

The report contains a number of recommendations and I have selected two which underline further the need for young people to discover and develop their spiritual potential. A spiritual capacity that is also connected to the growth of inner strength and its accompanying quality of resilience. This short extract will also serve as a most appropriate summary and conclusion to this reflection.

The report points to two sources of wonder that children and young people need to experience…

“One is the feeling of belonging to something greater than oneself; something that gives meaning to one’s own small existence. Religious people experience this. Or it can come from music, dance, drama, painting, from anything that takes you out of yourself and makes you thankful for what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t have.

A second key element is the astonishing fact that in the end no-one can determine your inner state except you yourself. Viktor Frankl said of his experience in Auschwitz that everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of human freedoms, to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. An essential element in a good life is the feeling that you are the captain of your own soul, and that in the end things can be all right inside you whatever happens outside.”

Jonathan Marshall

October 2016

“Reading, Writing and Arithmetic are important only if they serve to help make our children more human.” A holocaust survivor who went on to become a head teacher in America.

Jonathan Marshall MBE, stepped down from his full time post in 2014 but remains, on a limited, commissioned basis, RE Adviser to Plymouth SACRE and the Plymouth Centre for Faiths and Cultural Diversity, where he was Director and which he helped found in 2000. He is a member of the LTLRE Steering Group and continues working with “Prevent” both locally and nationally. He is also a Home Office registered WRAP trainer.

Jonathan recently revised a small booklet for schools entitled, “Building Bridges” July 2015, which explores the search for, and promotion of values, through Belief, Faith and Culture. It is available in hard copy from the Centre. For details; Tel 01752 254438 Email: [email protected]

Also contact the Centre for training opportunities; these include: WRAP sessions; the Prevent duty and promoting British values in educational settings and Understanding Islam

This short paper was originally written in 2015 and has now been updated in October 2016