Ofsted to question Muslim primary school girls about wearing hijab
Tuesday November 21 2017
Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Schools at Ofsted, recently announced that schools’ inspectors will be allowed to question primary school pupils who wear hijab, with the reasons given being recorded in schools’ inspection reports.
Alongside this, Spielman said that the “hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation”, which has angered and dismayed many Muslims.
The Department for Education has clearly stated that uniform policies are a matter for individual schools. Spielman’s announcement also goes against the choice of parents to dress their children how they wish.
At MEND, we believe that Ofsted’s action may run contrary to the Equalities Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998. If Ofsted does not reverse its decision, MEND will consider legal action against Ofsted.
We call on all parents to use the letter below as a template to write to the board of Ofsted, explaining why Ms Spielman’s announcement is discriminatory and calling for her to respect religious tolerance and parental choice. Please do not just cut and paste this letter, rather make similar points in your own words.
“Dear Professor Weinberg,
I am shocked and dismayed by Amanda Spielman’s statement calling for Ofsted inspectors to question primary school children who wear the hijab, along with her claim that the hijab is part of the “sexualisation” of these children.
Firstly, singling out Muslim children for questioning clearly goes against the claim Ofsted is promoting British values by having “mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths”. Muslim parents who choose to dress their daughters in hijab, within the dictates of the school uniform policy, are perfectly within their rights to do so, as held by the right to freedom of expression. The UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, clearly says that all nations “shall take measures where required to ensure that persons belonging to minorities may exercise fully and effectively all their human rights and fundamental freedoms without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.”
I would also like to remind you that the Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of their religion or belief. Therefore questioning children who cover their hair solely on the basis that they are Muslim would most likely be in breach of this legislation. Would Ofsted be similarly questioning Jewish boys who wear the yarmulke, Sikh boys who wear the Joora (topknot) or turban, or indeed children of other faiths that wear other religious symbols?
Furthermore, the Public Sector Equality Duty requires public bodies to have “due regard to the need to eliminate discrimination, advance equality of opportunity and foster good relations between different people” when carrying out its duties. By so explicitly focusing on Muslim schoolchildren, Ofsted is clearly failing in its duty to advance equality of opportunity and eliminate discrimination between different groups of people.
Another reason why I am appalled at Ms Spielman’s recent statement is because of the negative message it sends to Muslim girls who wear the hijab. It shows them that once again, the odds are stacked against them at an early age, with these experiences continuing through adolescence and adulthood. Last year Parliament’s Women and Equalities Committee outlined in its report, Employment Opportunities for Muslims in the UK, how Muslim women who wear the hijab or niqab are discriminated against in the employment sector, with the report calling for employers to pay particular attention “to the impact of discrimination and the fear of discrimination in the workplace for Muslim women who wear cultural or religious dress”.
Stigmatising young Muslim girls for wearing the hijab at such an early age simply adds to the view that Muslim women are impacted by negative stereotypes for the clothes they wear, as opposed to the skills, qualities and talent they have to offer.
I therefore call on you to listen to the views of parents like myself, reflect on these points, and reconsider Ofsted’s position to ensure that Muslim children are treated fairly within the education system, with children not stigmatised for outwardly expressing their faith or belief.
Regrettably, many of us in the Muslim community have no choice but to take legal action against Ofsted should this decision not be reversed fairly promptly.