Ofsted chief accused of Islamaphobia over hijab comments

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The head of Ofsted has been accused by teachers of Islamaphobia over remarks she made about young girls wearing the hijab in the classroom.

Amanda Spielman was criticised by members of the NUT section of the National Education Union for suggesting that inspectors will ask girls why they are wearing the head covering, who accused the schools’ watchdog of taking an “unwarranted and typically draconian stance” on the issue.

Delegates at the union’s conference in Brighton said it was “wholly inappropriate” for inspectors to question primary-age pupils on their choice of dress.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector (Ofsted/PA)
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector (Ofsted/PA)

Kauser Jan, a delegate from Leeds, accused the Ofsted chief inspector of wading in with an approach “saying that we must rid our schools of these weapons of mass destruction – the hijab”.

“Wading in and telling our girls, saying that ‘no, you’re going to be questioned about why you are wearing that? who has actually oppressed you?’ she said.

“Well let me tell you Amanda Spielman, we’re not going to take it. I am so proud to be in a union that is challenging this, I am so proud that we stand shoulder to shoulder.

“Whatever your ideas about the hijab, I’m so proud of our general secretary who has stood shoulder to shoulder and head to head with Amanda Spielman telling her our union is not going to accept her Islamaphobic policies.

“We have taken regressive steps, where our children are now being told, or made to feel, they must leave their coultural, and linguistic and religious identity at the door.

“I know Muslim girls and men who have shaved off their beards, taken off their hijabs so they can Anglicise themselves to fit in, so they are not viewed as part of the problem.”

Mehreen Begg, from Croydon, a British Muslim, said the resolution “provides strong opposition to Ofsted’s unwarranted and typically draconian stance on the wearing of hijabs in primary schools”.

She said: “It is wholly inappropriate for Ofsted inspectors to question primary-age Muslim girls on their choice of dress.

“This is an act of intimidation by a powerful adult on a young child and has no place in our education inspection system.

“Whilst wearing a hijab may not always be a choice, both here and internationally, it is not for Ofsted to intervene in this debate, which is a debate within the Islamic community.”

The motion argues that Ms Spielman’s remarks “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.”

It also says: “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 resolution highlights these comments, as well as referencing remarks in a speech by the Ofsted chief in which she called for schools to promote a “muscular liberalism” rather than “adopting a passive liberalism, that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence”.

Ms Spielman also gave her support to Neena Lall, head of St Stephen’s primary school in east London, which was forced to back down over plans to ban young people from wearing the hijab in class, arguing that school leaders have the right to set uniform rules.

Jess Edwards of the union’s executive said: “The portrayal of the hijab as a problem will feed into an already horribly Islamaphobic climate for Muslims inside of British society and Ms Spielman has
betrayed the parents who have rolled back the hijab ban in that Newham school and portrayed them as being radicalised extremists”.

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.

“Head teachers 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.”

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “We warmly welcome the National Education Union’s position that comments from Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector were not evidence-based, go beyond her remit and may have ramifications on local communities.

“It appears that Ofsted is becoming increasingly isolated in its ‘muscular liberalism’ approach on imposing clothing restrictions for young Muslim girls, standing in opposition to Muslim parents, Muslim communities, Muslim organisations and now teachers across the country.”

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