More and more schoolchildren are being referred to the government's deradicalisation programme iStock

A rising number of children in England and Wales are being referred to the government's deradicalisation programme with some 415 aged 10 and under identified as being at risk of extremism over the past four years. A further 1,424 youngsters aged 11 to 15 were also identified as at risk of being radicalised.

Referrals to the Channel scheme, which aims to stop people being drawn into extremism, have been rising year-on-year as the government steps up efforts to tackle "home-grown" terrorism. The figures, covering January 2012 to December 2015, were provided to the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) following a freedom of information request.

The biggest single rise in referrals for both age groups came in November 2015, just months after new laws were passed handing schools, hospitals, local authorities and other public bodies a legal duty to identify anyone at risk of extremism.

The measures proved controversial and prompted delegates of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) to warn teaching staff were being asked to "spy" on their pupils. They also said the government's strategy would "damage and prohibit debate in schools", as pupils were reportedly becoming unwilling to talk about extremism in case they were reported.

The figures provided to the NPCC show the vast majority of Channel referrals for children aged 15 and under originated from the education sector.

Critics also feared the measures, which the government insisted would target all forms of extremism, could lead to Muslims being specifically targeted. The West Midlands, home to 14% of the country's Muslim population, reported the highest number of Channel referrals compared to any other region in England and Wales.

Miqdaad Versi, assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said of the government's deradicalisation strategy: "There are huge concerns that individuals going about their daily life are being seen through the lens of security and are being seen as potential terrorists rather than students. This is a natural consequence of the extension of the Prevent Duty to schools."

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One case last year saw a 14-year-old boy questioned about the Islamic State (Isis/Daesh) after a classroom discussion about environmental activism saw him mention the word "ecoterrorist". Concerns were raised by teachers at Central Foundation School in north London and he was taken to a room days later to be questioned by officials.

Another case in December saw a teacher reporting a 10-year-old Muslim boy after he misspelled the word "terraced" when he wrote he lived in a "terrorist house". It led to Lancashire police officers arriving at the child's home the next day, with his parents telling the BBC their son is now "scared of writing, using his imagination".

A previous information request in June of last year discovered the youngest child to be referred to the Channel scheme was just four years old.

The government insists Channel, which is for people of all ages, has been effective at deradicalising people. The scheme is voluntary and, in the case of children, parental consent is needed. Of the 4,000 referrals since 2012, only hundreds have agreed to take part, the figures provided to the NPCC showed.

Security Minister John Hayes said: "This is about safeguarding and it's working. This is about protection, this is about help, this is about providing all the support you need to make sure your children are safe."