Extremists use schools to pervert education, says Ofsted head Amanda Spielman | The Times

Increasing muscular language by Ofsted. It would be helpful if she could cite some examples of other religions rather just highlighting legitimate concerns with some Muslim schools:

Religious extremists are “perverting” education by using schools to narrow children’s horizons and cut them off from wider society, the head of Ofsted is warning.

Parents and community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology” in the worst cases, Amanda Spielman says. In a speech today, she will call on head teachers to “tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values”, facing them down using “muscular liberalism” rather than being afraid of causing offence.

Ms Spielman will also throw her weight behind Neena Lall, the head of St Stephen’s primary school in east London, who has tried to stop girls under eight from wearing the hijab in class and to prevent younger pupils taking part in Ramadan fasting during school hours.

Ms Lall was compared to Adolf Hitler in a video circulated by a group of parents and community leaders. Councillors also protested, accusing the head teacher of undermining the freedom to practise faith and insisting that it was up to parents to decide how to dress and bring up their children. The school, a secular state primary in a largely Pakistani and Bangladeshi community, was forced to reverse the decision.

In an unusual move, Ofsted inspectors arrived at the school yesterday to check on the welfare of staff and pupils and to show solidarity with the head. In a speech to be made today at a Church of England schools conference, Ms Spielman attacks those who opposed the stance taken by St Stephen’s, saying it is a matter of “deep regret” that the school, considered one of the best in the country, has been subjected to “a campaign of abuse by some elements within the community”.

Head teachers must have the right to set uniform policies as they see fit to promote cohesion, Ms Spielman says. “Rather than adopting a passive liberalism, that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of causing offence, school leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism,” she says. “It means not assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone — imagine if people thought the Christian Institute were the sole voice of Anglicanism. And it means schools must not be afraid to call out practices, whatever their justification, that limit young people’s experiences and learning.”

Since starting the job as Ofsted’s chief inspector a year ago, Ms Spielman, 56, has made tackling religious extremism one of her main goals. Her speech is her most outspoken attack yet on religious communities who seek to limit the education and opportunities of youngsters in the name of faith.

“Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education. Under the pretext of religious belief, they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology. Freedom of belief in the private sphere is paramount, but in our schools it is our responsibility to tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values or equalities law.”

Ms Spielman has confronted unregistered faith schools when she believes they are not serving communities well. She also took legal action against Al-Hijrah, a state-funded faith school in Birmingham, to stop it segregating girls and boys on religious grounds. Another 25 mixed-faith schools will have to follow suit as a result of the ruling by judges in the Court of Appeal.

The Ofsted chief has challenged primaries that allow girls to wear a hijab or similar headscarf, saying that it could be seen as sexualising those as young as five or six. The practice of head covering is usually associated with modesty only after the onset of puberty. She said that inspectors would question girls seen wearing headscarves in primary schools to establish why they did so. As a result of her stance, she and other inspectors have received threats. Last year she told The Times that security measures had been put in place for herself and some Ofsted staff.

Ofsted says that zealous parents and community leaders dictating school policies is not widespread but happens “enough to be a cause of concern”. Its inspectors have identified at least 170 unregistered faith schools, attended by up to 3,000 children.

via Extremists use schools to pervert education, says Ofsted head Amanda Spielman | News | The Times & The Sunday Times

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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