The chief inspector of schools in England is to listen to the concerns of Muslim campaigners who are calling for a hijab ban in state primaries.
Ofsted’s head of inspections Amanda Spielman agreed to meet with the women, who are concerned over the rise of children as young as five wearing the Muslim headscarf after it was revealed that hijabs are included in the approved uniform lists at “thousands” of UK primary schools.
“Muslim girls as young as five are increasingly veiled and schools are sanctioning this by including it as part of school uniform policies,” wrote the activists, led by former Labour parliamentary candidate Amina Lone, in a letter to The Sunday Times.
Its eight signatories accuse Britain of having “an abysmal record” of protecting Muslim girls “who suffer under the pretext of protecting religious freedoms”, criticising the country’s responses to “so-called sensitive issues such as female genital mutilation and forced marriages”.
“Islam does not require children to cover their heads, so why are our schools allowing this in the name of “religious tolerance” the letter questions, its signatories branding the trend of young children in hijabs “an affront to the historical fight for gender equality in our secular democracy”.
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Pointing out that the garment “is usually worn by girls who have reached puberty, to prevent unwanted sexual advances from men”, teacher and feminist campaigner Aisha Ali-Khan said the hijab should have no place in British primary schools, “but local authorities are afraid of causing offence to the Muslim community and afraid of being branded as racist”.
Children’s rights campaigner Gina Khan, another of the letter’s signatories, added: “Schools are allowing it because they are afraid of being called Islamophobic and they have been told that this is a religious garment – but they need to support Muslim girls to have free choices, not to be set apart from other children.”
A source from Ofsted said the watchdog had become increasingly concerned at the rising number of primary school age children wearing hijabs, telling The Times: “We are looking at whether there is evidence that schools are facing external pressure to adapt their policies.”