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Hijab ban ‘naked racism dressed up as liberalism,’ teachers’ conference warns

4th May 2018

Hamed Chapman

Britain’s biggest teaching union has accused the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, of Islamophobia and going beyond her remit over remarks she made about young girls wearing a hijab in the classroom.

The Chief Inspector of schools has called for a campaign of ‘muscle liberalism’ when actively taking sides to support the controversially banning of Muslim girls from wearing the hijab at a predominantly Muslim state school in east London.

But at its Annual Conference this month, the National Union of Teachers (NUT) unanimously passed a motion condemning Spielman and warned that efforts to bar girls from wearing the hijab at primary schools were “naked racism dressed up as liberalism.”

Pete Smith, a delegate from Swindon, accused Ofsted of aiding a hostile climate for Muslims, calling its policy on hijabs as racism “dressed up as liberalism”.

“Let’s tell Ofsted, let’s tell the DfE [Department for Education], that we are not prepared to stand up for their racism. We will face them down, we will push that racism back by any means necessary,” he told the conference.

Mehreen Begg, a teacher from Croydon, also described Spielman’s position as “unwarranted and draconian” in supporting a hijab ban and claiming its wearing could be “interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four.

“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 system.”

Speaking after the motion was passed, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT section of the National Education Union (NEU), said schools play an “important role in educating individuals to challenge prejudice and contribute to a future of greater social justice. They are at the forefront of leading by example in the promotion of respect, acceptance, equality and inclusion.”

The Chief Inspector’s comments “could undermine the role of schools as places where students feel welcome and safe in their identity. They could also lead to further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on, Muslim women and girls,” he warned.

“We do not believe the statements made by HMCI are evidence-based. There is no evidence to suggest that this particular item of clothing has an impact on a child’s learning or attainment.”

Discussions about dress code or school uniform should be conducted in a way which “promotes inclusion for individual children and counters stereotypes about gender, faith and culture.”

The NEU section President, Kiri Tunks, also said they were sending “a really important message to the Muslim community that we will stand with you against these attacks.”

A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said it welcomed the motion that showed Ofsted seemed to “becoming increasingly isolated in its ‘muscular liberalism’ approach to imposing clothing restrictions for young Muslim girls.”

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