Ofsted accused of racism over hijab questioning in primary schools

CREDIT: This story was first seen in the Guardian

Letter signed by 1,000 teachers and faith leaders says watchdog’s recommendation for inspectors reinforces Islamophobia, the Guardian reports.

Ofsted’s recommendation for inspectors to question Muslim primary school girls if they are wearing a hijab has been condemned as “kneejerk, discriminatory and institutionally racist” by more than 1,000 teachers, academics and faith leaders.

The schools inspectorate announced this month that the policy was designed to tackle situations in which wearing a hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four or five, when most Islamic teaching requires headdress for girls only at the onset of puberty.

But the move has been criticised as a “dangerous” decision that risked “reinforcing an anti-Muslim political culture in which Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism has been institutionalised in schools and across the public sector”.

letter signed by 1,136 teachers, academics and faith leaders said: “It is a kneejerk, discriminatory and institutionally racist response that will violate civil liberties and create a climate of fear and mistrust in schools, and must be retracted immediately.”

Ofsted’s announcement in the form of a recommendation to inspectors rather than an update to the inspectorate’s official handbook was the latest of a string of requirements issued after the “Trojan horse” affair in Birmingham in 2014, which provoked controversy over fears of Islamist influence in state schools.

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted and chief inspector of schools, said she respected parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, but wanted to tackle situations “where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab [that] could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls”.

The announcement followed a meeting this month between Spielman and campaigners against the hijab in schools, including Amina Lone, a co-director of the Social Action and Research Foundation.

The letter, written by Nadine El-Enany, a senior law lecturer at Birkbeck Law School, University of London, Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, and Shereen Fernandez, a PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We, the undersigned, ask that Ofsted immediately retract its instruction to inspectors to question primary school children wearing the hijab.

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“We find the decision to single out Muslim children for questioning unacceptable, and insist that no school children be targeted for action on the basis of their race, religion or background.

“While a wider conversation about the sexualisation of girls in Britain’s culture and economy is welcome, the singling out of Muslim children for investigation is unacceptable.

“The message the Ofsted decision sends to Muslim women is that the way they choose to dress and the decisions they make in raising their children are subject to a level of scrutiny different to that applied to non-Muslim parents.

“Further, the Ofsted decision reduces the hijab to a symbol of sexualisation and ignores other interpretations ranging from a display of faith to a symbol of empowerment and resistance. Constructing women and children who wear the hijab as being either sexualised or repressed is both reductive and racist in its reproduction of colonial and Orientalist tropes about them.”

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