Ministers too PC to enforce hijab policy in schools, former Ofsted boss warns

CREDIT: This story was first seen in The Telegraph

The government is too politically correct to enforce rules on hijabs in schools, leaving teachers ‘alone, isolated and vulnerable’, the former head of Ofsted has warned.

The Telegraph reports that Sir Michael Wilshaw said a lack of formal policy from the Department for Education on whether children should be allowed to cover their heads in lessons has led to angry clashes.

He also highlighted concerns that there are 150 schools around the country which make it compulsory for children to wear hijabs, adding that “the country has enormously changed” and some communities hold very conservative views which cannot easily be challenged.

It follows a public outcry after a primary school in east London announced it was banning children from wearing hijabs but was forced to reverse the decision after complaints from parents.

Speaking to BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday Sir Michael said: ” There’s something like 150 schools…. which in short make it compulsory for youngsters to wear a hijab – so what’s happening about those schools?

“The country has enormously changed. When heads want to change things, they have now to take into account deep-seated and sincere feeling of communities, some of whom who have conservative views.

“The government needs to step in. It can no longer say it’s up to the headteachers. That head might be faced with an opposition which says, well hang on, you made this decision, but there’s a school half a mile away which does allow [wearing hijabs for primary aged children].”

Asked if a fear of being politically incorrect was stopping the Government from developing a national policy on hijabs in schools, he said:  “Yes absolutely. There is a reticence, and it’s leaving headteachers alone, isolated and vulnerable.”

Currently schools are expected to set their own policy on uniform, but critics have warned some feel unable to do so because of strong held views about religious attire, and have called on ministers to help by setting national guidance.

The Government is expected to come under further pressure to publish formal guidance on hijabs later this month, after the education select committee said it would hear evidence from the current chief inspector of schools about the issue.

Amanda Spielman will be questioned by MPs after she backed the Newham school’s decision.

Earlier this month she said some religious fundamentalists want to “actively pervert the purpose of education … and in the worst cases indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology”.

She added: “Schools must have the right to set school uniform policies as they see fit in order to promote cohesion. It is a matter of deep regret that this outstanding school has been subject to a campaign of abuse by those who want to undermine the school’s position.”

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Sir Michael also raised the issue of the Trojan Horse scandal which prompted 21 schools in Birmingham to be investigated amid fears Islamist groups were seeking to have teachers removed and sex education lessons banned.

He said: “The Trojan Horse issue showed what can happen, and it’s really up to the Department for Education to say this is now an ongoing issue that is affecting more than a few schools. You need to come up with some policies.”

Lord Agnew, minister for schools, condemned the “vitriolic abuse” and “intimidation” staff at the primary school in east London experienced after proposing a hijab ban.

He said: “As the minister responsible for faith and counter-extremism in the Department for Education, I wanted to send out a clear message: bullying or intimidation of school staff is completely unacceptable.

“Our teachers … are completely within their right to make decisions on how to run their schools in the best interests of their pupils — in line with the law and in discussion with parents, of course — and we back their right to do so.”

But a spokesman for the department for education stopped short of promising to develop guidance to help teachers who want to ban religious attire, despite Sir Michael’s calls.

The current chief inspector of schools in England, Amanda Spielman, will be questioned by MPs later this month after she backed the Newham school’s decision.

She said some religious fundamentalists want to “actively pervert the purpose of education … and in the worst cases indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology”.

She added: “Schools must have the right to set school uniform policies as they see fit in order to promote cohesion. It is a matter of deep regret that this outstanding school has been subject to a campaign of abuse by those who want to undermine the school’s position.”

Ofsted added: “Inspectors visited St Stephen’s to look at the appropriateness of decision making – including the leadership team’s ability to make and implement decisions as they see fit, what support the school received, and the way the school communicates with parents. Ofsted will publish the outcome of this inspection shortly.”

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