Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman “overstepped the mark” in her comments about pupils wearing the hijab, according to a leading teaching union, which plans to issue new guidance on sensitive uniform issues.
The executive of the National Union of Teachers section of the National Education Union will this weekend seek to pass a motion condemning comments by Spielman, which it claims “go beyond the remit of Ofsted”. It will also will seek to advise schools on the best course of action to take when developing a uniform policy or dress code.
Spielman was criticised last year when she announced plans to have inspectors ask pupils why they were wearing the hijab during school visits. The situation was exacerbated when Spielman backed a headteacher at the centre of a row over her decision to ban young girls from wearing the hijab.
The NUT today warned that Spielman’s comments have “ramifications beyond the school gates” and could lead to “further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on Muslim women and girls”.
The motion, which still has to be agreed by the conference business committee this afternoon, instructs the union’s leadership to “robustly challenge” Spielman’s statements about the hijab and reissue guidance.
Speaking at the union’s annual conference in Brighton, NUT general secretary Kevin Courtney said the union had issued comprehensive guidance some years ago which addressed a debate at the time about Muslim dress in schools. He said the union’s aim was to reissue that guidance, to take new developments into account.
The new guidance will advise schools on how they should listen to their communities and “very carefully” go through the process of developing a dress code.
Although the guidance is not yet drafted, it is unlikely to support a hijab ban, Courtney said.
“We don’t think it makes any sense for there to be a ban on the wearing of the hijab. I think it’s a problem that Amanda Spielman, Her Majesty’s chief inspector, speaks out on this in a way which I think is frankly very political.”
Courtney raised particular concerns about Spielman’s use of the phrase “muscular liberalism”, a phrase used by the former prime minister David Cameron to describe his approach to multiculturalism.
“For Amanda Spielman to borrow political terms like that and then to introduce the idea which she did, although they have retreated from it, that individual Ofsted inspectors would ask individual Muslim girls why they were wearing the hijab and then to imply they were wearing the hijab because they had been sexualised indicates somebody who isn’t in touch with Muslim communities at all.
“If you really found out why a girl is wearing the hijab, it would be, in the vast majority of cases, because her sister was wearing the hijab or because her mother was wearing the hijab. That’s fundamentally what’s going on.”
An Ofsted spokesperson said the union’s comments were “disappointing”.
“There’s nothing political about ensuring that schools and parents aren’t being subject to undue pressure by national or community campaign groups.
“Headteachers need to be able to take uniform decisions on the basis of safeguarding or community cohesion concerns, and Ofsted will always support them in doing that.”