Navida Sayed, London
The head of OFSTED Amanda Spielman announced earlier in the week that Inspectors would question girls who wear hijab in primary school to find out why they do so. She said ‘creating an environment where Muslim children are expected to wear the headscarf could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls’. If OFSTED inspectors go ahead and start policing the wearing of hijab in primary schools, this will have a detrimental impact on the social and emotional well being of the girls and it will be the gateway to intimidation and harassment of young Muslim girls. It needs to be stressed here that as far as the teachings of Islam go, it does not permit or instruct any individual to enforce the Hijab on women and certainly not on young girls.
There are far greater concerns for education authorities and they have stringent measures in place to protect children, the hijab has not been of concern in this regard. In the current turbulent times in education settings and at home parents from all backgrounds across UK are encouraged to talk to their children about keeping safe from abuse. The NSPCC launched an initiative ‘Talking Pants’ specifically created for parents to discuss the topic of sexual abuse with 4-11 year olds about their bodies and about keeping them safe.[i] This does not mean that children will become sexualised if parents dress them appropriately and talk to them in a child friendly way. Muslim parents adapt similar strategies explaining modesty to children from a very young age, to keep them safe from the harms of society in a child friendly and age appropriate way, this process does not include putting a young girl in a hijab but letting her know at the right age that she has the option to wear the hijab as a means to protect her from the harms of society.
Amanda Spielman should be pleased that Muslim parents are contributing in teaching their teenage children how to be safe from sexual exploitation and abuse after the age of puberty through the observance of hijab. Only recently ‘The Children’s Commissioner for England” has published a report looking into the current provision of education programmes related to the prevention of child sexual abuse in schools in England. Findings from 1,093 primary and secondary schools who responded to an online survey of head teachers show that: around half of primary schools reported that they teach topics related to sexual exploitation and abuse, compared to almost 90% of secondary schools; more than a third of primary schools and 15% of secondary schools do not hold specific sessions with pupils to allow them to raise concerns; 34% of primary schools and 16% of secondary schools do not have a confidential/secure place where pupils can disclose abuse; 20% of primary schools and 12% of secondary schools do not have a designated person that pupils can go to if they have a concern.’[ii]
Bearing in mind the Children’s Commissioner for England Anne Longfield’s report [iii] surely schools should have no problem with girls who choose to wear a headscarf freely out of her own choice, because it will never pose a hindrance in their education in fact girls choosing to wear hijab have excelled in academic and professional careers.
The Department of Education’s statutory guidance for schools continuously works towards implementing policies and strategies improving education and even promoting children and young people’s emotional health and well being. In some primary schools the overall aim was to equip children with the knowledge and skills to allow them to ‘successfully navigate the complexities of the social world that they are part of’. [iv] Furthermore The Department for Education framework for the national curriculum at key stages 1 and 2 and includes: Inclusion responding to pupils’ needs and overcoming potential barriers for individuals and groups of pupils.
If OFSTED start questioning young primary school girls about their hijab, it will alienate them and make them feel as if they have done something wrong because they are being questioned by an OFSTED inspector. This can have a detrimental effect on the social and emotional well being of Muslim girls. We hope that OFSTED can continue focusing on their prime goal to improve education standards rather than target the dress of Muslim girls.
[iii] Childrenscommissioner.gov.uk. (2017). https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Preventing-CSA-The-Role-of-Schools-CCO-April-2017-1.2-1.pdf
[iv] Ncb.org.uk. (2017).