Toni Wyatt Bennett, 4th April 2018

NUT18: Ofsted comments about the wearing of the hijab in schools

Commenting after the debate of the priority motion, Kevin Courtney, General Secretary of the NUT section of the National Education Union, said:

The National Education Union (NEU) believes in a system of comprehensive education in which schools are welcoming and inclusive for all students. Schools play an important role in educating individuals to challenge prejudice and contribute to a future of greater social justice. They are at the forefront of leading by example in the promotion of respect, acceptance, equality and inclusion.

We are therefore concerned by recent statements by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector (HMCI) that Ofsted inspectors will speak to young girls wearing the hijab 'to ascertain why they do so in school' and that, 'where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab, it could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls.'

We believe that these comments could undermine the role of schools as places where students feel welcome and safe in their identity. They could also lead to further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on, Muslim women and girls.

We do not believe the statements made by HMCI are evidence based. There is no evidence to suggest that this particular item of clothing has an impact on a child's learning or attainment. We also believe that concerns around sexualisation would be better addressed by learning from and taking action on, the recommendations made in the NEU's tackling sexism report.

Discussions about dress code or school uniform should be conducted in a way which promotes inclusion for individual children and counters stereotypes about gender, faith and culture. As has been said by the courts, the starting premise should be that students have the right to manifest their religious beliefs, although there may be circumstances in which restrictions may be necessary. Any policy should be built through forging respectful partnerships between teachers, families and students. This ensures engagement with all sections of the school community and that school policies meet the needs of children and young people.

Schools should ensure that their school dress-code policy is fair and reasonable, reflects a consensus within the school community about what is, and is not, an appropriate school dress-code and does not act as a barrier to parents when choosing a school.

We will continue to work with schools to help them develop their dress code policy. We will also continue to reassure school leaders that there should be no increased scrutiny of Muslim girls or their parents following the HMCI's statements.


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