School inspectors will be allowed to rate schools as “inadequate” if they let pupils or staff wear full-face veils such as niqabs in their classrooms, according to a policy announced by the chief inspector of schools.
Sir Michael Wilshaw said Ofsted would support heads and principals banning what was described as the “inappropriate wearing” of the veil, in an intervention that was supported by ministers but criticised by Muslim leaders and teaching unions for polarising the issue.
“I am concerned that some heads and principals who are trying to restrict the wearing of the full veil in certain circumstances are coming under pressure from others to relax their policy. I want to assure these leaders that they can rely on my full backing for the stance they are taking,” Wilshaw said.
“Where leaders are condoning the wearing of the face veil by staff members or by pupils when this is clearly hindering communication and effective teaching, they should give consideration to judging the school as inadequate.”
The Muslim Council of Britain accused Wilshaw of being heavy handed in his approach, saying: “Ofsted need not have resorted to the megaphone of the media to show that it is flexing its muscles.
“We are a country that prides itself in accommodation and fair play. It is a shame that the niqab – the full-face veil that a minority of Muslim women wear – has become a polarising issue when it need not be.”
The Ofsted intervention comes after David Cameron said last week that he would back institutions with “sensible rules” regarding Muslims wearing full-face veils. Promoting plans to encourage greater integration of Muslim women in the UK, Cameron said he would support public bodies such as courts that needed to “see someone’s face” in order to function.
Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, said last week: “It very much is up to the schools, schools will have a uniform policy. But there are certain things, particularly in relation to teachers who are teaching young children, particularly learning to read and to speak, where actually seeing the teacher’s mouth is very important in understanding them.”
On Tuesday, however, the Department for Education indicated that it supported Wilshaw’s revised stance. “We are pleased that heads and school leaders who choose to implement policies which restrict the wearing of the veil to support effective teaching and learning will receive Ofsted’s backing,” the DfE said.
The wearing of the niqab has been an occasional flashpoint in schools and colleges.
Schools can decide whether to ban full-face veils, says Morgan
Camden School for Girls hit the headlines in 2014 after it banned a student from wearing a niqab in sixth form. The 16-year-old had been a student at the school for five years, but wanted to start wearing the full-face veil when she began her A-level studies.
The school refused her permission on the grounds that teachers need to see a student’s face to read the visual cues it provides. The school said it was important for the safety and security of the school community to know who is on site and to be able to identify individuals.
In a separate incident, Birmingham Metropolitan College was forced to drop a ban in 2013 after students protested. The college had said students must remove hoodies, hats, caps and veils while on the premises so that they were easily identifiable, but was forced to change this after thousands signed an online petition opposing the move.
The college subsequently issued a statement saying it had decided to allow individuals to wear “specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values”.
The niqab can be worn by observant Muslims after puberty. Those schools that allow it to be worn are independent Muslim faith schools, but in the majority of cases they are also single-sex schools, meaning that girls are able to discard it in the classroom or indoors.
Wilshaw’s announcement was criticised across the spectrum of teaching unions, including the more moderate unions representing headteachers, as an assault on school autonomy.
Leora Cruddas of the Association of School and College Leaders, which represents many secondary school heads, said: “We do not think that it is the role of Ofsted inspectors to judge schools on uniform policies and dress codes. Inspectors should focus on what schools achieve, rather than what people wear.
— Mike Cameron (@mikercameron)
January 26, 2016
One would assume there are lots of examples in Ofsted reports of the veil causing problems. You’d be wrong. https://t.co/qsqNxn5ZGU
“Schools make decisions on uniform policies and dress codes with the needs of their staff and pupils in mind and take into consideration relevant educational, welfare and equalities issues.”
Kevin Courtney, the deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, called the move a “punitive dictat”.
“Rather than assisting school leaders, this will have the effect of alienating many staff and pupils,” he said.
Following Cameron’s remarks, Wilshaw said the veil was possibly stopping teachers and pupils from communicating effectively and that he supported any schools which prevented Muslim girls from wearing the veil “if it is stopping good communication in the classroom”. “My inspectors say on occasions they go into classrooms where they see there are problems about communications,” Wilshaw told the BBC.
Andrew Clapham, an expert on school inspection at the Nottingham Trent University school of education, said Wilshaw’s position was not supported by any research.
“There is no credible evidence base to suggest that wearing a piece of clothing on one’s head has an impact on intellectual or academic ability,” he said.
“Penalising an institution because of a piece of clothing raises a whole range of questions, which appear beyond the remit of the school inspectorate. If Ofsted is to pursue this initiative, then empirical evidence should be analysed prior to making such a policy decision.”
Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.theguardian.com