Ofsted entered the social engineering arena again this week over the issue of young Muslim girls wearing a niqab, or headscarf. Concerned that it could be interpreted as sexualisation, Amanda Spielman has told inspectors to question young Muslim girls to establish why their heads are covered.
This is not a new debate – in 2016, inspectors were told to judge schools inadequate if students or staff wore the niqab, or full-face veil, on the grounds that it restricted interaction and learning. This recent development follows on the heels of a Sunday Times survey in September which showed that of the 800 primary schools surveyed, one fifth list the hijab as part of school uniform. At the time, the head of Ofsted told LBC that, ‘Teachers are at risk of being “over-sensitive” towards young Muslim girls by allowing them to wear hijabs at school’, so this ruling is no surprise.
But it is concerning at a number of levels. There is no point in expecting a five year old child to know why she is wearing a particular piece of clothing – it’s what the girls and women in her family do, so she does it too. It’s part of her religious identity. Ofsted cannot expect very young children to question, much less understand, the cultural norms of their community. If Ofsted want to deal with what young children wear to school, then they should do so by instructing schools about uniform policy, not by questioning children too young to have thought-through answers. That will only serve to provoke.
There is doubt, too, about Spieman’s interpretation of the hijab – vlogger Nilly Dahlia observed that it has nothing to do with sexualisation and she wears it by choice a sign of submission to her faith. If this is the case, why is Spielman not pursuing Jewish boys for wearing kippahs? Or Plymouth Brethren girls for wearing headscarves or hair bows to signify submission to the authority of men?
But there’s a deeper issue here, and it goes, once again, to Spielman’s imposition of a feminist ideology on education. As Harun Kahn, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain observed, ‘many British Muslims who choose to wear the headscarf have done extremely well in education and are breaking glass ceilings’. Nadiya Hussain, of Bake Off fame, and Bushra Shaikh, a candidate on the current series of The Apprentice whose independence and determination to succeed in the fashion industry is a role model for any Muslim girl, are both evidence of that.
Back in 2016, when the issue of the niqab was raised, Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society also made it a feminist issue, writing: ‘The education secretary should recognise that the face veil is more than a piece of clothing. Its symbolic role and the way in which it makes an issue of female gender and sexuality means it should have no place in British schools’. And the NSS is agitating over the niqab, too, writing to Justine Greening to say, ‘In our view, the forcing of a child to wear the hijab, or any other item of religious clothing, is entirely at odds with this fundamental British value and with wider human rights norms on children’s rights. This conflict needs to be addressed.’ Since when was policy at Ofsted dictated by the views of an activist group, the membership of which amounts to just 0.01% of the population? Nevertheless, based on their success and clearly confident of their position within Ofsted, the NSS this week turned its attention to Jewish religious clothing.
Most worryingly, particularly given the fact that Ofsted is now allowing the NSS voice to dominate its thinking, anyone of faith should be very concerned about Spielman’s other statement: ‘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.’
This is nothing short of a declaration of war on any expression of faith or religious belief in schools. Spielman has invited the British public to vent its considerable spleen on anything, in any school, which doesn’t match the liberal agenda. She is opening the door to an unprecedented outpouring of religious hatred, presumably in the hope that this will solve the problems of extremism and radicalisation.
Harun Kahn is disappointed that the issue of the hijab ‘is becoming policy without even engaging with a diverse set of mainstream Muslim voices on the topic’. Well, Ofsted is engaging, but only with people who want to blow the whistle on breaches of liberal totalitarianism. They clearly have no intention of listening to, or even considering the views of, people of faith.