Hundreds of teachers and academics call on Ofsted to reverse hijab policy

Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman

More than 700 academics, teachers and activists have written an open letter to schools watchdog Ofsted demanding that it retract instructions to inspectors to question Muslim kids about why they wear hijab.

The letter calls Ofsted’s decision “kneejerk, discriminatory and institutionally racist” and says it “will violate civil liberties and create a climate of fear and mistrust in schools.”

Amanda Spielman, the head of Ofsted and chief inspector of schools, said the move was to tackle situations in which wearing a hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of girls as young as four or five.

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

“While respecting parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls,” Spielman said.

Here is the full text of the letter to Ofsted:

We, the undersigned, ask that Ofsted immediately retract its instruction to inspectors to question primary school children wearing the hijab. 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.

In taking this decision, Ofsted undermines the priorities it set for itself in 2017. First, Ofsted claims that “all of [its] work is evidence-led.”

Ofsted has provided no evidence that some children wearing the hijab creates an environment where “school children are expected to wear the hijab,” or that this “could be interpreted as the sexualisation of young girls,” as Amanda Spielman states.

Amina Lone is one of the main voices in the anti-hijab campaign in primary schools

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.

Second, Ofsted claims its “frameworks are fair.” Yet the decision to single out Muslim children wearing the hijab raises serious concerns that Ofsted is itself discriminating on the basis of race, religion and gender.

Third, Ofsted states that it “target[s] [its] time and resources where they can lead directly to improvement.” Yet, Ofsted provides no evidence for the suggestion that by questioning Muslim children, such issues can be effectively addressed. Indeed, the evidence suggests that stigmatising and targeting young people for heightened scrutiny enhances feelings of isolation.

Further, it is deeply concerning that those who will be most affected by this decision have not been consulted, and that Ofsted has allowed itself to be led by partisan interests.

Ofsted’s decision risks reinforcing an anti-Muslim political culture, in which Islamophobia/anti-Muslim racism has been institutionalised in schools and across the public sector as a result of Prevent.

Moreover, the decision is dangerous in a climate in which street violence, abuse and attacks on Muslims are increasing and to which visibly Muslim women and children are particularly vulnerable. 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.

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