Inspectors to question primary school girls who wear hijab

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gra­cious, the Most Merciful.

As-salā­mu ‘alaykum wa-rah­mat­ul­lāhi wa-barakā­tuh (Peace, Bless­ings & Mer­cy of Allah be upon You).

This state­ment is being issued on the 20th of Novem­ber 2017 and super­sedes all pre­vi­ous state­ments on the subject.

On the 19th of Novem­ber 2017, sev­er­al rep­utable news­pa­pers report­ed that School inspec­tors in Eng­land have been told to ques­tion Mus­lim pri­ma­ry school girls if they are wear­ing a hijab or sim­i­lar head­scarf. This announce­ment was con­firmed by Aman­da Spiel­man, the head of Ofst­ed and chief inspec­tor of schools.

To begin with, we ques­tion the suit­abil­i­ty of Aman­da Spiel­man to be the head of Ofst­ed.

Com­mons Edu­ca­tion Select Com­mit­tee had reject­ed Ms Spiel­man and sight­ed 5 rea­sons in their report:

  1. She lacked pas­sion: The com­mit­tee said Ms Spiel­man did not demon­strate the “pas­sion for the role that we would have hoped for”. It said MPs were con­cerned that, when asked why she want­ed the job, she did not refer to the chief inspector’s role in rais­ing stan­dards and improv­ing the lives of chil­dren and young people.
  2. She lacked broad­er expe­ri­ence : While Ms Spiel­man has gained expe­ri­ence of sec­ondary edu­ca­tion through her work at acad­e­my chain Ark and exam reg­u­la­tor Ofqual, she did not con­vince the com­mit­tee that she had a clear under­stand­ing of the oth­er aspects of the “com­plex role” of HMCI.
  3. Con­cerns over build­ing bridges: The com­mit­tee said it felt that Ms Spiel­man did not appear to recog­nise the impor­tance of build­ing bridges with the pro­fes­sions inspect­ed by Ofsted.
  4. The buck stops with Ofst­ed: When it came to children’s ser­vices, the com­mit­tee said it expect­ed Ms Spiel­man to acknowl­edge that Ofst­ed would be held to account if it failed to spot “sys­temic failure”.
  5. No clar­i­ty: The com­mit­tee said it did not leave the ses­sion with a “clear sense” of how Ms Spiel­man would go beyond Ofsted’s mis­sion state­ment to trans­late it into prac­tice or of the “direc­tion she saw Ofst­ed tak­ing under her leadership”.

Ms Spiel­man has nev­er been a teacher. In 2016 after her rejec­tion, Kevin Court­ney, act­ing gen­er­al sec­re­tary of the Nation­al Union of Teach­ers, had said: 

To have as the new chief inspec­tor of Ofst­ed a per­son who has no teach­ing expe­ri­ence and who is heav­i­ly impli­cat­ed in the acad­e­my pro­gramme, cer­tain­ly does call into ques­tion both their suit­abil­i­ty and impar­tial­i­ty for the job. 

Road safe­ty is impor­tant and we need to teach our chil­dren to be safe and being vis­i­ble is an inte­gral com­po­nent of being safe on the roads. Ms Spiel­man said chil­dren in hi-vis jack­ets on school trips looked like “tiny con­struc­tion work­ers” – giv­ing out a mes­sage to the pub­lic that she said makes her feel “uncom­fort­able and more than a lit­tle sad”.  Since Ms Spiel­man nev­er taught, it is obvi­ous that she has nev­er tried tak­ing a large group of chil­dren on a school trip, tak­ing them across roads, keep­ing them safe while let­ting them enjoy the experience. 

A large num­ber of teach­ers did and con­tin­ue to ques­tion the suit­abil­i­ty of Ms Spiel­man as the head of Ofsted. 

Let us return to the issue at hand.

There has been a cam­paign to tar­get Mus­lim girls, and Ms Spiel­man has tak­en own­er­ship of it with­out scruti­ny or con­sult­ing a greater cross-sec­tion of the Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty. The NSS inves­ti­ga­tion, it’s far­fetched fear­mon­ger­ing and the con­tents of the let­ter are alarming:

…We are soon to meet Aman­da Spiel­man, the chief inspec­tor of schools, to dis­cuss the unac­cept­able rise of the hijab in state-fund­ed pri­ma­ry schools (“5‑year-olds wear hijab as school uni­form”, News, last week). Veil­ing is high­ly con­tro­ver­sial because it is about mod­esty, curb­ing sex­u­al­i­ty and sex­u­al curios­i­ty. Women’s rights are the first to fall when reli­gious extrem­ists gain pow­er. The image of brave Yazi­di women burn­ing their burqas should be a warn­ing to us all. This is about pow­er, con­trol, sta­tus and regres­sive hon­our codes. We duck from chal­leng­ing so-called sen­si­tive issues such as female gen­i­tal muti­la­tion, child sex­u­al exploita­tion and forced marriages…

This is an alarm­ing and wor­ry­ing devel­op­ment for the British Muslims. 

Reli­gious free­dom is a fun­da­men­tal British val­ue. Britain and its peo­ple have stood by this unalien­able right, pro­tect­ed it and even went to war over it. It is dis­turb­ing to note that we are turn­ing our backs on it and depriv­ing our own cit­i­zens the right to prac­tise their religion.

Our chil­dren are vul­ner­a­ble to over sex­u­al­i­sa­tion (both in lan­guage and behav­iour) and teach­ers across the nation are wor­ried. Ofst­ed should be lis­ten­ing to teach­ers, pro­tect­ing our chil­dren and con­fronting a real and a tan­gi­ble issue. 

It is dis­ap­point­ing to note that Ofst­ed has enact­ed a pol­i­cy and issued guid­ance with­out can­vass­ing the opin­ions of a diverse set of Mus­lims on this issue.

Mod­esty is an inte­gral part of the Islāmic fāith. Mus­lims (both men and women) are instruct­ed to be mod­est and abide by the rules and reg­u­la­tions of Hijāb. An out­ward man­i­fes­ta­tion of Hijāb for women is the scarf which is being tar­get­ed by Ofst­ed. It is not mere­ly a piece of cloth but an act of wor­ship. Ofst­ed has decid­ed to impede an act of wor­ship, grant­ed that it may not be an oblig­a­tion or a duty upon small girls. Par­ents have the unalien­able right to teach, set an exam­ple and nur­ture good val­ues in their chil­dren. How can any­one see a lit­tle girl with a scarf on her head as “sex­u­al­i­sa­tion”? Equat­ing (an act of wor­ship) with “sex­u­al­i­sa­tion” is plain­ly absurd! Ms Spiel­man pre­vi­ous­ly saw chil­dren in hi-vis jack­ets as “tiny con­struc­tion work­ers”  and now she sees lit­tle girls with scarves on their heads as “sex­u­alised”? 

We believe that the move to tar­get Mus­lim girls (and their fam­i­lies by exten­sion) is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and should be reversed. The choice to wear the scarf is per­son­al and to ques­tion pri­ma­ry school chil­dren will alien­ate large sec­tions of the Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion. Per­haps Ms Spiel­man should see chil­dren as chil­dren, like the rest of us!

Thank you