Ofsted inspectors are to question Muslim schoolgirls who wear the hijab amid concern that they are being forced to wear the religious headscarf.
The controversial new approach was announced on Sunday by the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman.
She said schools could be in breach of equality laws if they only require girls to wear religious garments.
“In seeking to address these concerns, inspectors will talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school,” Ms Spielman said.
Responding to the move, Harun Khan, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “It is deeply worrying that Ofsted has announced it will be specifically targeting and quizzing young Muslim girls who choose to wear the headscarf.
“It sends a clear message to all British women who adopt this that they are second class citizens that while they are free to wear the headscarf, the establishment would prefer that they do not.”
He added: “It is disappointing that this is becoming policy without even engaging with a diverse set of mainstream Muslim voices on the topic.”
The wearing of the hijab in schools remains a delicate and controversial topic.
Earlier this year a Catholic school near Birmingham caused a uniform row after banning a four-year-old girl from wearing a headscarf.
Critics said the school was in breach of the Equality Act, while supporters said faith schools were allowed to set their own uniform policies and were exempt from discrimination laws.
A survey by the right-wing Sunday Times newspaper found 18 per cent of 800 primary schools, including Church of England primaries, now include the hijab in their uniform policy.