Ofsted chief criticised for remarks on girls wearing hijab in schools
Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman has come under fire from teachers for remarks on girls wearing the hijab in schools.
The head of the schools watchdog is being accused of overstepping 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 this weekend that argues statements from Ms Spielman on the hijab should be "robustly challenged" and new guidance issued to schools on developing uniform policies.
An Ofsted spokesman said the NEU comments were "disappointing".
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 there is concern about the impact of Ofsted discussing the issue of the hijab.
"People feel so much pressure by Ofsted, our worry is that instead of consultation we will find schools saying, 'We are going to ban the hijab'," he said.
"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."
Asked directly if Ms Spielman has overstepped the mark in discussing the hijab in schools, Mr Courtney said: "I do. I think this goes beyond the remit that Ofsted should have."
Mr Courtney said that any new union guidance would involve the input of different communities and suggested the advice "will not think that a hijab ban is a good idea".
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".
The union's resolution says that statements from Ms Spielman "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, Ms 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."
She also gave her support to the head teacher 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.
An Ofsted spokesman 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."