UK teacher’s union votes to challenge Ofsted’s stance on banning hijabs in schools

The leader of the National Education Union, Kevin Courtney, has said the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman, risks splitting communities by backing head teachers who might wish to ban the hijab[1].

Ofsted has said that school leaders must have the right to decide on uniform polices “in a way that they see fit, in order to promote cohesion”. However, Courtney said measures to ban the hijab in schools should not be taken without consulting the local community, and that he feared schools might introduce bans because of pressure from Ofsted, which could put social cohesion at risk[2].

Courtney made the comments ahead of the National Education Union’s conference in Brighton, where a motion heard states that Spielman’s comments on the matter have gone beyond “the remit of Ofsted”, being too political, and that union members should robustly challenge it[3].

It says Spielman’s statements “could have ramifications beyond the school gates and must be seen in the context of increasing attacks on the Muslim community” and that such comments could have “a negative impact on local communities and lead to the further marginalisation of … Muslim women and girls”[4].

In response to the motion, Ofsted commented that the National Education Union’s comments are disappointing”, saying, “There’s nothing political about ensuring that schools and parents aren’t being subject to undue pressure by national or community campaign groups … Head teacher[s] 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”[5].

In response to the motion, the conference voted to challenge the statements by Spielman regarding the hijab[6].

Latifa Abouchakra, a teacher from Ealing, told the conference that the “muscular liberalism” Spielman had called for in British schools was “just another term for racism and Islamophobia”, and “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”. This was just one of many comments criticising Ofsted’s stance made at the conference, including from delegate Pete Smith, who accused Ofsted’s policy on hijabs as racism “dressed up as liberalism”[7].

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) welcomed the union’s efforts, commenting, “It appears that Ofsted is becoming increasingly isolated in its ‘muscular liberalism’ approach on imposing clothing restrictions for young Muslim girls … we can only hope that [Ofsted] will listen and learn rather than continue on its confrontational non-engagement strategy, which will only harm the very young children Ofsted is meant to support”[8].

[1] Richardson, 2018.

[2] Richardson, 2018.

[3] Richardson, 2018.

[4] Richardson, 2018.

[5] Richardson, 2018.

[6] Adams, 2018.

[7] Adams, 2018.

[8] Adams, 2018.

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Adams, R. (2018) ‘Hijab ban attempt is ‘racism dressed up as liberalism’, teachers’ conference told’. [online] 1 April. [Accessed 8 April 2018].

Richardson, H. (2018) ‘Ofsted school hijab ban stance challenged by teachers’ union’. [online] 30 March. [Accessed 8 April 2018].