More than 350 children under the age of 10 have been reported for being ‘at risk of extremism’ in just one year.
The youngsters were earmarked for possible intervention by the Government’s Channel mentoring programme, it has been revealed.
In total, 4,611 people were referred in the 12 months to June – a 75 per cent increase compared with the previous year, when there were 2,632.
Of those 4,611, about half – 2,311 – were 18 or younger, the figures obtained by the Press Association under freedom of information rules showed.
The increase follows the introduction of a controversial requirement on local councils, schools, health services, prisons and the police to report anyone voicing extremist views or considered vulnerable to radicalisation.
Each case is assessed and can then be referred to Channel, a one-to-one mentoring programme, as part of the overall Prevent strategy.
The strategy was set up after the 7 July bombings in 2005, to tackle violent and non-violent extremism, from Islamists to neo-Nazis.
The requirement has been criticised as a threat to attempts to build closer community links and dialogue if it is used to target innocent acts, especially by young people.
The figures, released by the National Police Chiefs Council, showed there were 2,311 referrals relating to under-18s – an increase of 83 per cent on the previous year.
Of that total, 970 were between 15 and 17 years old, 989 were aged ten to 14 and 352 of the children were nine or younger.
In the year after the Prevent duty took effect, school referrals rose to 1,121, more than double the 537 in the previous year.
Engagement with Channel is voluntary and it is not a criminal sanction. Not all referrals are ultimately deemed to require intervention.
Jonathan Russell, from Quilliam, the counter extremism think tank, told The Times that the rise in referrals could be because of the “increased visibility” of Isis.
He said: “The important thing to note is that trained professionals think an increasing number of young people are vulnerable to radicalisation.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the headteachers’ union NAHT, said: “We need to ensure that training for teachers is provided to make sure that they are able to fulfil their duties and to ensure that referrals are appropriate.”
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We have a duty to challenge, at every turn, the twisted narrative that has exploited some of our vulnerable young people.
“We will continue to work with communities of all backgrounds to challenge those who spread hatred.”
In 2015 about 70 per cent of referrals to Channel were linked to Islamist-related extremism and roughly 15 per cent to far-right extremism.
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