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Kent schoolchildren to use Zak social media tool to spot signs of radicalisation and threat of extremism in pupils

By KentOnline reporter

A new interactive tool is being used by schools to encourage pupils as young as ten to understand how they can spot the signs of political radicalisation.

The social media-based tool, based on a character "Zak," has been developed by Kent Police, the county council and the University of Kent and has already been trialled in 20 schools, including several primaries.

It is part of Kent Police's response to the government's anti-terror strategy "PREVENT", which is aimed at countering the threat of extremism and political radicalisation.

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Following the murder of Lee Rigby, the government said it wanted more action to help young people to be more aware of both radicalisation and grooming, particularly through the internet.

Zak is a character who uses a fictitious social media site similar to Facebook.

Pupils are presented with various scenarios based on postings he has made and asked to make judgements about whether he could be at risk and is vulnerable to radicalisation.

The innovative model has already proved successful with those schools which have used it and has led to an increase in referrals to Kent Police about vulnerable young people.

Toni Roullier, PREVENT officer with Kent Police, said: "Young children can be vulnerable and this helps them explore how the radicalisation process works, the signs to be aware of and most importantly, what to do if you see those signs.

"People who have been radicalised are not criminals who have done anything wrong but if it is not addressed, then it could lead to them being preyed upon by criminals.

"It is important that friends of vulnerable people report concerns not to get them arrested but to help safeguard them."

She denied the initiative might spread unnecessary alarm among young people about a threat that was not really there.

"Radicalisation can happen anywhere. Just because it is not a big problem in Kent does not mean we should ignore it - quite the opposite.

"It's really important to raise awareness and is something we can't ignore."

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Joe Jardine-Viner, assistant headteacher of Tonbridge Grammar School, said his pupils had responded positively to Zak.

"There was something intriguing to them about looking at somebody else's media profile.

"Radicalisation can happen anywhere. Just because it is not a big problem in Kent does not mean we should ignore it - quite the opposite" - Toni Roullier

"It gave them an insight how information they share on social media sites might be viewed by other people but also the important steps that need to be taken if things go wrong.

"It is important that people understand the world in which they live.

"Students are aware of extremist groups even if they may not have direct experience of them.

"Part of our job is to prepare them for the world they live in."

Kent Police says it aims to encourage all schools to use Zak as a focus for pupils to discuss other issues, such as online grooming and bullying.

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