Teachers set to raise concerns over hijab comments by Ofsted chief

Teachers are today expected to raise concerns that remarks by the head of Ofsted on the hijab in schools could be damaging to local communities and lead to an increase in attacks on Muslim women and girls.

Amanda Spielman is being accused of over-stepping the mark for comments relating to the head covering, including suggesting that inspectors will speak to young girls wearing it about why they do so.

Members of the NUT section of the National Education Union (NEU) are due to debate a resolution at their annual conference today that argues the chief inspector's statements "go beyond the remit of Ofsted".

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

An Ofsted spokesman said the NEU comments were "disappointing".

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."

It was reported in November that inspectors had been told to question Muslim primary school girls wearing a hijab about why they do so, and that Ms Spielman had said that creating environments where young girls are expected to wear the garment "could be interpreted as sexualisation of young 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".

She also gave her support to the headteacher of St Stephen's primary school in east London, which was forced to back down over plans to ban young girls from wearing the hijab in class, arguing that school leaders have the right to set uniform rules.

The union's resolution says that Ms Spielman's statements should be "robustly challenged" and new guidance issued to schools on developing uniform policies.

Packed hall at #NUT18 for Kiri Tunks' presidential address pic.twitter.com/JZB0EReKa9

-- Tes (@tes) March 31, 2018

Speaking ahead of the debate, NEU joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said he believes "it is a problem that Amanda Spielman, her majesty's chief inspector, speaks out on this in a way which I think is frankly very political".

Mr Courtney said that any new union guidance on uniforms would involve the input of different communities and suggested the advice "will not think that a hijab ban is a good idea".

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."

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