Teaching union criticises Ofsted chief over hijab ban for young girls

Amanda Spielman’s comments on young Muslim girls wearing headscarf could increase race attacks, says NEU

The country’s largest teaching union has criticised the head of Ofsted, accusing her of pressuring schools into banning the hijab worn by young girls, amid a claim that the watchdog’s position could lead to “increased physical and verbal attacks” on Muslim girls.

The motion to be debated at the National Education Union (NEU) meeting in Brighton over the Easter weekend takes aim at recent remarks by Amanda Spielman and her concerns over Muslim girls as young as five wearing the headscarf.

Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the NEU, criticised Spielman’s recommendation that headteachers adopt a “muscular liberalism” to override the wishes of their local communities.

“I think it is a problem that Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector [of schools], speaks out on this in a way which I think is frankly very political,” Courtney said, in remarks at the opening of the NEU’s annual conference.

“People feeling so much pressure from Ofsted, our worry is that instead of consultation we will find schools saying: we are going to ban the hijab.

“And we think that would be very damaging to community relations. It’s not a sensible place to go, so our guidance will be about how you have dialogue, respectful dialogue, and dialogue based on love for one another.”

The controversy stems from Spielman’s response to lobbying over the issue of school dress codes in primary schools, allowing children under the age of puberty to wear the hijab when Islamic teaching in many cases reserved the hijab for girls who had gone through puberty.

The issue centred on a state primary school in east London, St Stephen’s, which backed down over plans to ban pupils from wearing the hijab in class, which led to a public intervention by Spielman arguing that headteachers have the right to set uniform rules.

Last year Spielman announced that Ofsted inspectors had been told to question Muslim primary pupils wearing a hijab, with Spielman later saying that expecting pupils to wear the headscarf “could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls”.

“That individual Ofsted inspectors would ask individual Muslim girls why they were wearing the hijab, and then to imply that they were wearing the hijab because they had been sexualised, indicates somebody who isn’t in touch with Muslim communities at all,” Courtney said, introducing the motion to be debated by delegates to the NEU conference.

An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The NEU’s comments are disappointing. There’s nothing political about ensuring that schools and parents aren’t being subject to undue pressure by national or community campaign groups.

“Headteachers need to be able to take uniform decisions on the basis of safeguarding or community cohesion concerns, and Ofsted will always support them in doing that.”

The NEU motion calls for the union to issue guidance to teachers, calling for schools to consult with their wider community before imposing bans.

The motion states that Spielman’s statements “have ramifications beyond the school gates and must be seen in the context of increased attacks on the Muslim community and particular stereotypes about Muslim girls and Muslim women”.

The motion to be voted on by delegates also states that “these statements could have a negative impact on local communities and lead to further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on, Muslim women and girls”.

The union’s resolution says Spielman’s statements “go beyond the remit of Ofsted” and that there is no evidence that certain clothing has an impact on a child’s learning or achievement.

In a speech earlier this year, Spielman said: “Rather than adopting a passive liberalism, that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence, schools’ leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism.”


Richard Adams in Brighton

The GuardianTramp

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