Britain’s school inspection organisation Ofsted has told its inspectors that segregating boys and girls in the classroom is acceptable in Muslim schools and need not be criticised.
The Times reports that inspectors have been sent instructions saying that boys and girls “may well” be seated separately in classrooms in Islamic faith schools and that this should not be seen as discrimination – a claim that should doubtlessly anger equal rights campaigners, though may indeed be ignored by cultural relativists.
Music and art classes may also be “restricted”, it said, even though they are requirements in the national curriculum. The guidance also says that girls being required to wear headscarves should be an expression of their identity, rather than oppression.
The revelations come after the Department for Education criticised the separate seating of boys and girls in one of the schools investigated under the “Trojan horse” enquiry into alleged Islamist takeovers of secular schools in Birmingham.
The government told Oldknow Academy to “eliminate” the practice.
Ofsted also criticised a school for using the practice last year when it rated “pupil safety” at Al-Madinah Academy as inadequate, one of its reasons being that older boys and girls sat at opposite ends of the classroom and ate lunch separately.
The guidance approving of segregation was updated only three months ago, and applies to inspectors visiting faith schools.
The advice says: “Boys and girls may well be taught or seated separately according to the specific context, particularly during collective acts of worship. This should not be taken as a sign of inequality between genders.”
“Girls will cover their head with the ‘hijab’ or scarf. On occasions this is not a requirement of the school but at the pupil’s own request. Inspectors should be mindful to not misinterpret this as a sign of repression but instead to understand that Muslim females see this as a part of their identity and a commitment to their beliefs within Islam,” it adds.
The guidance also tells male inspectors not to shake hands with female staff unless invited, and before entering a classroom they may need to give a female teacher time to put on a headscarf or full veil.
A spokeswoman for Ofsted said: “Our guidance is designed to assist inspectors and to understand what they may expect to see in faith schools of various designation.
“However, as the chief inspector has made clear, it is really important that all our schools promote the values of wider British society.”