It may send shock waves across liberal circles and Muslim communities; head of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, announced that Britain’s primary school inspectors would question girls who wear the Muslim headscarf at school.
The inspectors have been advised to record the responses of the school girls to the question as to why they wear the hijab to school. “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 sexualization of young girls,” Spielman said.
While justifying her announcement that has already triggered Muslim groups to react sharply, she added, “In seeking to address these concerns, and in line with our current practice in terms of assessing whether the school promotes equality for their children, inspectors will talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school.”
Spielman met various anti-hijab campaigners after a survey by British newspaper Sunday Times suggested that nearly a fifth of 800 state primary schools, in 11 regions of England list the hijab as part of their uniform policy, mostly as an optional item.
Amid the sweeping right wing political wave in Europe, Britain was still seen as not abandoning its liberal and secular claim. This move will be interpreted by analysts in the backdrop of rising Islamophobia in Europe.
The apparent reason for the questioning of the young Muslim School girls who choose to wear hijab has been given as gender based - to check the “sexualization” of young girls. On the surface the authorities seem to be concerned about gender equality, but Muslims see it as a discriminatory act against their community as the move exclusively target Muslim girls.
The Muslim Council of Britain secretary-general, Harun Khan 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,” Khan said.
“It is disappointing that this is becoming policy without even engaging with a diverse set of mainstream Muslim voices on the topic,” he added.
Khan urged “any parent or member of the public who has a concern about fundamentalist groups influencing school policy, or breaching equality law to make a complaint to the school.”
“If schools do not act on these complaints they can be made to Ofsted directly,” he said.
*Written by Waseem Ahad.