There could be a rise in physical attacks on Muslim women and girls, as a result of the Ofsted chief inspector’s comments about pupils wearing the hijab in primary school, the largest teaching union has suggested.
A leader of the National Education Union also warned that schools could increasingly decide to ban pupils wearing the hijab following the “very political” statements from the schools watchdog.
Amanda Spielman, chief inspector of Ofsted, said last year that inspectors would speak to young girls wearing hijabs in schools to “ascertain why they do so”.
She also publicly supported the headteacher of a London primary school which banned the hijab for girls under eight, earlier this year. The ban was later removed after complaints from the local community.
A priority motion, proposed by the NUT section of the National Education Union (NEU) – meeting for their conference in Brighton this weekend – is set to condemn the Ofsted boss’s comments on the hijab.
It says the remarks “go beyond the remit of Ofsted” and could “have ramifications beyond the school gates”.
“These statements could have a negative impact on local communities and lead to further marginalisation of, and increased physical and verbal attacks on, Muslim girls and Muslim women.
Earlier this month, The Independent exclusively revealed that one in three Muslim students are living in fear of Islamophobic attacks or abuse on campus – and women who wear traditional garments are most concerned for their safety.
A third of Muslim students said they had been victims of crime or abuse at their further education college or university.
The NEU motion, which is due to be debated by teacher union members over Easter weekend, calls for guidance on school dress code policies to be reissued.
Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the NEU, accused the Ms Spielman of being out of touch with the Muslim community and he said it was “bizarre” to impose a hijab ban on schools.
He said: “People feel so much pressure by Ofsted, our worry is that instead of consultation we will find schools saying, ‘We are going to ban the hijab’. And we think that would be very damaging to community relations.
“It’s not a sensible place to go, so our guidance will be about how you have dialogue, respectful dialogue, and dialogue based on love for one another.”
Asked by The Independent whether the union had noticed a change since her comments, Mr Courtney said that Muslim teachers “feel maybe they should not wear the hijab even though they have worn it their whole lives through.”
He said: “They find it’s difficult to go into a school with a hijab. Some male Muslim teachers report they feel very intimidated to grow their beard in the way that they think aligns with their faith. There is a climate where people feel less able to express their faith and that is a very bad thing for our society.”
Mr Courtney added that he believed most young girls were choosing to wear a hijab in primary school because their mothers or sisters were doing it, rather than because of concerns about sexualisation.
An Ofsted spokesperson said: “The NEU’s comments are disappointing. There’s nothing political about ensuring that schools and parents aren’t being subject to undue pressure by national or community campaign groups.
“Head teachers need to be able to take uniform decisions on the basis of safeguarding or community cohesion concerns, and Ofsted will always support them in doing that.”