Family & Education

Concern over Ofsted's hijab inspection plan

Jewish organisations believe the inspection service may be overstepping the mark with its plan to check on the reasons young Muslim girls are wearing hijabs


Jewish educational organisations have voiced concern over plans by Ofsted to ask Muslim girls in primary schools why they are wearing a hijab.

Ofsted’s chief inspector Amanda Spielman announced the intervention after meeting Muslim and secular campaigners who want a ban on hijabs in primary schools, the Sunday Times reported this week.

But Rabbi David Meyer, executive director of Partnerships for Jewish Schools, described the investigation of religious head-dress as “very troubling”.

The Board of Deputies said it will seek clarification from the education authorities on how Ofsted proposes to carry out its enquiries.

Ms Spielman said that, “creating an environment where primary-school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls”.
Inspectors, she said, would “talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school”.

She urged anyone who “has a concern about fundamentalist groups influencing school policy, or breaching equality law” to complain to the school. 
If the school did not act, Ofsted could become involved,she said.

But Rabbi Meyer fears Ofsted is “in danger of falling into the trap of those with an anti-faith agenda and undermining the very foundations of tolerance and freedom of practice it has been charged to uphold”.

Judith Nemeth, executive director of the National Association of Orthodox Jewish Schools, said the inspection service’s “constant barrage on religious and ethical standards is of great concern and reflects a disproportionate emphasis within the inspection of standards of education in schools.”

She added: “Even though Ms Spielman may find the sight of the hijab forbidding, I cannot imagine wearing a hijab prevents the brain from processing information and skills, which is at the forefront of education.  

“Indeed, as they are covered up, it is likely Muslim girls can concentrate better on their work without the distraction of attracting unwarranted attention from their opposite gender”.  

Harun Khan, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, called on Ofsted to reverse its “wrong-headed approach”.

Ofsted’s move on hijabs comes only a few weeks after a successful court appeal to defend its view that boys and girls should not be entirely segregated at a Muslim faith school. 

A number of Jewish schools which separate boys and girls to some degree are waiting to find out the implications of that decision.

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