Child radicalisation methods 'similar to sexual grooming'
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has likened methods used by extremists to radicalise British schoolchildren to sexual grooming.
Speaking at the launch of a new website designed to offer information and support to families and schools of pupils vulnerable to extremism, she said the threat posed by radicalisation was unlike "any we have faced before".
Ms Morgan added that terrorist organisations often target "less resilient" children in the same way paedophiles do.
She said: "Schools worry about the welfare and safety of children day in and day out, whether it's sexual exploitation, drugs, online abuse.
"Some children can be generally less resilient to these sorts of pressures because of things like self-esteem and confidence issues."
The website, Educate Against Hate, is part of a new raft of measures aimed at helping those looking after young people to recognise and deal with signs that the children in their care are being targeted by extremist groups.
Ms Morgan launched the site, which has pages specifically dedicated to teachers and family members, during an event on Tuesday morning at Bethnal Green Academy in east London.
The school has recently been a centre of concern about the issue after the disappearance of female pupils Shamima Begum, Kadiza Sultana and Amira Abase, who were feared to have travelled to Syria last year.
Speaking at the event, Peter Wanless, CEO of the child protection charity NSPCC, also highlighted that the radicalisation of children is a "real issue" that school staff are "grappling with, and that extremists who try to recruit vulnerable children use the "tried and tested techniques" often used by criminals for sexual exploitation.
Ms Morgan said: "We are dealing with an enemy determined to take away our future by targeting our next generation. They are putting poison in the minds and hatred in the hearts of our most vulnerable young people."
She emphasised the role of education and said that it was crucial to allow open debate rather than shielding children from differing world views.
She said: "Teachers need to continue to do what they do every day to broaden horizons and ensure young people leave school well-rounded. They need to have the tools and arguments needed to challenge extremism.
"We must not wrap them in cotton wool and hide them from the views that we feel are wrong. It is not about shutting down debate but reinvigorating it, while we root out those seeking to peddle extremism."
The website will be continuously updated to provide the most current information and links to further support services. It has been developed with specialist contributions from a number of charities, including the NSPCC and Childnet.
Last month, it was revealed that schools are to be told to set filters and monitor pupils' internet access, amid growing concerns that some youngsters are at risk of being targeted by extremist groups, as well as a number of high-profile cases involving schoolchildren travelling, or attempting to travel, to Syria.
On top of this, Ms Morgan said Educate Against Hate will provide an "invaluable" resource and encouraged schools to use it in parents' evenings to "remind" some parents of the consequences of radicalisation, and how to spot "warning signs".
As well as the website, the Department for Education will introduce stronger powers for Ofsted to investigate and prosecute unregistered, illegal schools.
There will also be a consultation on registering children that go missing from school, including any youngster of compulsory school-age who is not registered at a school or who is not receiving a suitable education.