THE Church of England will continue to encourage its schools to set “culturally and religiously sensitive” uniform policies, a spokeswoman has said, after Ofsted announced this week that its inspectors would question Muslim primary-school girls on their wearing of a hijab in the classroom.
The Chief Inspector of Schools, Amanda Spielman, told The Sunday Times that wearing a hijab or similar headscarf “could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls” and should be questioned. The hijab is not traditionally worn until puberty.
“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 said.
A recent survey by The Sunday Times of 800 primary-school websites found that one fifth, including C of E schools, listed the hijab as part of the uniform (News, 8 September). A campaign group of Muslim women complained in a letter to the same paper that allowing girls as young as five to wear the hijab as part of the school uniform was an “affront” to gender equality.
Ms Speilman had met some of the group two days before the announcement, on Sunday. “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,” she said.
A spokeswoman from Church House responded on Tuesday: “Research shows that there are many reasons why pupils wear the hijab in school. Our approach is to encourage local schools to set uniform policies having due regard to the cultural and religious sensitivities of the communities they serve, in balance with the well-being of their students.”
The secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Harun Khan, said this week that the move was “deeply worrying”, since it implied that all British women who choose to wear headscarves were “second-class citizens” because “the Establishment would prefer that they do not. One can only hope that this wrong-headed approach will be swiftly reversed, and the reasonable and sincere choices of young children and their parents — even if they are Muslim — will not be dismissed so easily.”