Education watchdog Ofsted accused of racism over hijabs
The UK’s National Education Union has accused Amanda Spielman, above, head of Ofsted and the Chief Inspector of schools in England, of ‘naked racism and and Islamophobia’ because of her opposition to young Muslim girls wearing hijabs in primary schools.
The union’s Easter conference in Brighton, according to this Guardian report, unanimously backed a motion attacking official support for the ban.
The motion accused Spielman of going beyond her remit over her recent comments linking the wearing of the hijab to sexualisation of young girls and her call for “muscular liberalism” to promote British values in schools.
Latifa Abouchakra, a teacher from Ealing, told the conference that such language made Muslims an easy target, and was:
Just another term for racism and Islamophobia.
Abouchakra related how she had been called a “terrorist” while leading a secondary school class trip to Hampton Court.
Ofsted’s stance has other ramifications. It signals to the British public that women are oppressed by Islam, and emboldens groups such as EDL (English Defence League), BNP (British National Party) and other racist groups.
Last year, Spielman said Ofsted school inspectors could ask young girls why they wore the hijab, when wearing it “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four or five. Most Islamic teaching requires headdress for girls only at the onset of puberty.
Mehreen Begg, a teacher from Croydon, said Ofsted’s position was:
Unwarranted and draconian. 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.
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 D f E 9Department 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.
After the motion was passed on Sunday morning, the NEU section president, Kiri Tunks, said:
It sends 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 (MCB) said it welcomed the union’s efforts:
It appears that Ofsted is becoming increasingly isolated in its ‘muscular liberalism’ approach on imposing clothing restrictions for young Muslim girls.
The controversy grew earlier this year when Spielman publicly supported an effort by the leadership of St Stephen’s primary school in Newham to stop young girls wearing the hijab at school. The school’s head dropped the ban after an outcry.
When the motion was first announced, a spokesperson for Ofsted said:
There’s nothing political about ensuring that schools and parents aren’t being subject to undue pressure by national or community campaign groups.
Headteachers 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.
Meanwhile it was reported here that, at the weekend, the Norwegian government proposed a nationwide ban on the wearing of full-face veils, such as the burqa and the niqab, in universities, schools, and kindergartens.
France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Bulgaria and the German state of Bavaria have all imposed restrictions on wearing full-face veils in public places.
If passed by parliament, Norway could become the first Nordic country to introduce such ban in the education sector, Finance Minister Siv Jensen said in a statement. Denmark plans to fine people who cover their face in public.
Jensen, who is also the leader of the anti-immigrant right-wing Progress Party, said the ban would send a strong signal that Norway is:
An open society where we are going to see the face of each other.
The government amended an initial proposal, first presented in June, to allow the wearing of full-face veils during breaks and staff meetings in schools and universities, but it would have to apply throughout working hours at kindergartens.
Jan Tore Sanner, above, Minister of Knowledge and Integration said in the statement:
A ban on face-covering garments will ensure open communication with children, students and newly arrived immigrants in educational situations.
Sanner belongs to the centre-right Conservatives.
Under the Norwegian proposal, employees who broke the rule several times would risk losing their jobs, and students would face expulsion, the government said. The ban would not apply to headgear like the hijab or hats.
Local bans on wearing burqa and niqab have been already introduced in some upper secondary schools in Norway.
Norway’s minority government, a coalition of the Conservatives, the Progress Party and the centrist Liberals, said in June it was confident it would find enough support for the move in parliament. If it does, the ban would start in August.
Separately, Oslo police said in a report that the capital had seen the highest reported number of hate crimes last year, with 198 incidents considered, against 175 in 2016.
The biggest increase we see among are women insulted in the category of religion, and more specifically Islam.