Schoolgirls wearing a hijab is a path to extremism? Now that’s a leap

Feb 6, 2018 by

The Ofsted chief is just the latest public official to distort and oversimplify the role of conservative Islam in schools

Samira Shackle –

St Stephen’s primary school in Newham, east London hit the headlines last month, after headteacher Neena Lall banned the wearing of hijabs for girls under the age of eight. There was a backlash; 19,000 people signed a petition protesting against the decision and the school governors overturned the ban.

Then Ofsted’s chief inspector, Amanda Spielman, made an unusual intervention, publicly supporting Lall. Speaking at a Church of England schools conference on Thursday, she said that headteachers should have the right to set rules on uniform. This was a fair comment – but from there on in, her comments deviated wildly from talking about the hijab for children.

I didn’t want to wear my hijab, and don’t believe very young girls should wear them today

“Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education,” Spielman said. “Under the pretext of religious belief, they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology.”

Her words fall just short of referencing the Trojan horse affair, the scandal that hit Birmingham’s schools in 2014 after an allegation that Muslim parents, governors and teachers were conspiring to run schools along Islamic lines. But the subtext is clearly there. Since 2014, this has become a shorthand for a broad and often vague range of anxieties about Muslims seeking “undue” influence in education. The Trojan horse affair led, more or less directly, to the new requirement for schools to promote British values – a vague term that suggests cultural conformity without being exactly clear on what these values are or why they are specifically British.

Spielman’s speech made a big leap from the debate about children wearing the hijab, to extremism. It is a leap that is made all too often by public officials, particularly when it comes to education. We see it time and time again: any policy question that relates to Muslims is immediately framed as an issue of terrorism, fundamentalism or a failure to integrate.

 

Source: Schoolgirls wearing a hijab is a path to extremism? Now that’s a leap | Samira Shackle | Opinion | The Guardian

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