The Greater Manchester Muslim Communities have grave concerns following the statement by the Head of OFSTED that its inspectors will now question Muslim primary school girls who wear the hijab as to why they choose to do so.

This OFSTED policy is deeply concerning for a number of reasons:

Firstly, for the Head of OFSTED to suggest that young girls who wear the hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation of young” is completely flawed. The wearing of the hijab is a religious practice which is not an obligation on girls until they attain puberty. Parents who dress their young daughters in hijab do so to accustom them to wearing it in later life. The wearing of hijab is a practice signifying religious observance. To suggest that the hijab sexualises young girls is abhorrent.

Secondly, we are deeply troubled that the head of OFSTED appears to have based a policy which will have far-reaching consequences on the opinion of a vocal minority who make unfounded claims about hijab and have concluded that the hijab has “no place in our primary schools”. As a public servant, the Head of OFSTED has failed to consult with a wide range of grassroots community groups. Had OFSTED carried out a thorough consultation it would have found that many Muslim women wear the hijab out of a sense of liberation and empowerment.

Thirdly, OFSTED has no business in interfering in the parental responsibility over their children and the religious practices of parents who dress their girls. We strongly believe the questioning of Muslim girls will be unfair and discriminatory. We also add that we would challenge OFSTED inspectors who seek to question Jewish boys wearing the kippah or Sikh boys covering their hair.

Fourthly, the questioning of girls who wear the hijab by OFSTED inspectors can only lead to these vulnerable girls feeling singled-out; they will inevitably be stigmatised in the process. We also fear, based on the rising litany of anti-Muslim hate crime in schools, that the trenchant bullying of Muslim girls will escalate to fever pitch.

Therefore, in the light of the OFSTEDS intentions to question girls who wear the hijab and for our deep concern for the safety of Muslim communities, we advise the following:

 Our advice to OFSTED

  1. To consult widely with grass roots communities who are well-placed to give a balanced view on subjects relating to Islamic faith and practice.
  2. To not base its policies on the opinion of a vocal minority who are disconnected from grass-roots communicates and who exhibit an intolerant, unsound and incoherent understanding of Islam and Muslim practice.
  3. To implement its stated role of supporting schools and pupils and not to use its privileged status to engineer social change which will only result in pupils feeling alienated and bullied.

Our advice to schools

  1. We advise schools to instead permit parents to exercise their parental responsibility and allow their daughters to wear the hijab without interference from the school or OFSTED.

Our advice to Parents

  1. Do not to allow your daughters to be subject to questioning by OFSTED inspectors about your daughter wearing the hijab.
  2. To make your concerns known to your school immediately using the formal channels. We urge you to contact your local council, local councillors and local MPs and to signal, very strongly, that you refuse to allow OFSTED inspectors to question your daughters about the wearing of the hijab.

Our advice to Government, MPs and local councillors

We advise the Government and elected representatives that the concerns highlighted by Parliamentarians before the Head of OFSTED’s confirmation have become manifest, namely, that she is unfit to lead OFSTED and further, she lacks even a basic understanding of communities and Islam. Her comments are un-British, absurd and will inevitably be counterproductive, because they only reinforce prejudice against Muslims.

Sadly, we have all witnessed the rising tide of anti-Muslim propaganda; Muslims have become the greatest victims of hate crime. OFSTED can play a critical role in dismantling this “factory of fear” by supporting schools in tackling Islamophobia head on. However, OFSTED must work with communities and not against them.

Together, we can make Britain a safer, more tolerant place where all our children can thrive.

This statement is issued by the following organisations:

Manchester Council of Mosques

Stockport Muslims

Bolton Council of Mosques

Oldham Mosques Council

Rochdale Council of Mosques