In September, we posted an item on the controversy over small girls wearing the hijab in British nurseries and primary schools. There were various reports (eg in The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard) that “Children as young as three are being allowed to wear the hijab in British nurseries and primary schools.” The ST reported that its own survey had found that a fifth of 800 primary schools, including Church of England schools, list the hijab as part of their uniform. The Department for Education said that uniform policies were for schools to decide, adding: “If a school decided to allow a pupil to wear a burqa, that would be up to the school.”
The Sunday Times subsequently reported that HM Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, had agreed to meet Muslim campaigners who were calling for a ban on the hijab in state primaries, on the grounds that wearing it puts pressure on Muslim girls to conform and that the practice sexualises the girls because it is traditionally not worn until puberty.
There have since been various press reports that HM Chief Inspector has told school inspectors in England to question Muslim primary school girls if they are wearing a hijab or similar headscarf. The announcement – in the form of a recommendation to Ofsted inspectors rather than an update to the Inspectorate’s official handbook – follows the meeting, which took place last week, between Ms Spielman and campaigners against wearing the hijab in schools. The Guardian reports Ms Spielman as follows:
“While respecting parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls. In seeking to address these concerns, and in line with our current practice in terms of assessing whether the school promotes equality for their children, inspectors will talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school. We would urge any parent or member of the public who has a concern about fundamentalist groups influencing school policy, or breaching equality law to make a complaint to the school. If schools do not act on these complaints they can be made to Ofsted directly.”
I have so far failed to find any formal statement to that effect on the Ofsted website.