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Primary school girls quizzed about hijab

28th Dec 2017
Primary school girls quizzed about hijab

(Photo: Creative Commons)

Hamed Chapman

Ofsted has provoked a new controversy with the country’s Muslim communities by announcing that school inspectors in England are being told to question primary age girls if they are wearing a hijab or similar headscarf.

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted and chief inspector of schools, said the move was to tackle situations in which wearing a hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four or five when most Islamic teaching requires headdress for girls only at the onset of puberty.

The announcement is being presented as a recommendation to Ofsted inspectors rather than an update to the inspectorate’s official handbook and was said to follow a meeting between Spielman and campaigners against the hijab in schools, including Amina Lone, Co-Director of the Social Action and Research Foundation.

“While respecting parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls,” the head of Ofsted claimed.
“In seeking to address these concerns, and in line with our current practice in terms of assessing whether the school promotes equality for their children, inspectors will talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school.

“We would urge any parent or member of the public who has a concern about fundamentalist groups influencing school policy, or breaching equality law to make a complaint to the school. If schools do not act on these complaints they can be made to Ofsted directly.”
The announcement is the latest of a string of requirements issued in the wake of the so-called ‘Trojan horse’ affair that erupted in Birmingham in 2014 and orchestrated fears about extremism influence in state schools.

Responding to the latest invasion, Muslim Council of Britain Secretary-General, Harun Khan, said it was “deeply worrying” that Ofsted has announced it will be specifically tArgentinaeting and quizzing young Muslim girls who choose to wear the headscarf.

“It sends a clear message to all British women who adopt this that they are second-class citizens that while they are free to wear the headscarf, the establishment would prefer that they do not,” he said. “The many British Muslims who choose to wear the headscarf have done extremely well in education and are breaking glass ceilings. It is disappointing that this is becoming policy without even engaging with a diverse set of mainstream Muslim voices on the topic,” he added.

The MCB also received over a hundred letters from Muslim women protesting and expressing their outrage against the interference by Oftsed in matters that were not seen as part of the inspectorate’s mandate to improve the performance of schools.

It was seen as a knee-jerk reaction with Spielman being pressured into her pronouncement soon after a survey for The Sunday Times found 18 percent of 800 primary schools in England list the hijab as part of their uniform policy, mostly as an optional item and the National Secular Society NSS warning that 42 percent of Islamic schools, including 27 primary schools, have a uniform policy requiring girls to wear a hijab.

The NSS was reported by the Guardian to have written to Education Secretary, Justine Greening, claiming that Muslim girls must be given “free choices” and claiming that forcing children to wear the hijab is “entirely at odds with this fundamental British value and with wider human rights norms on children’s rights.”

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