Britain’s primary school inspectors will question girls who wear the Muslim headscarf at school, the head of the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) and the chief inspector of schools, Amanda Spielman, said.
She explained the move was to tackle situations in which wearing a hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation” of school children.
Spielman’s announcement came as a recommendation to inspectors but the directive was not yet updated in the official handbook for inspectors. They are advised to record pupils’ responses to questions such as 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 sexualisation of young girls,” Spielman said.
“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,” she added.
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.
However, the Muslim Council of Britain secretary-general, Harun Khan, responded to the move.
“It is deeply worrying that Ofsted has announced it will be specifically targeting and quizzing young Muslim girls who choose to wear the headscarf,” he said.
“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.