Comment: Ofsted – not the niqab – is impairing learning in schools

Since the implementation of the Prevent strategy, 400 Muslim children under the age of 10 have been referred to the ‘anti-radicalisation’ programme


Earlier this week, Ofsted head Michael Wilshaw confirmed that inspectors can downgrade schools if they feel that the wearing of the niqab – by either teachers or pupils – is impairing learning. Phrased like this, it seems a reasonable policy.

In reality, however, opening the door to penalising the wearing of Islamic dress in this way is deeply worrying.

For a start, it’s unclear exactly why the niqab might be an obstacle to learning. Muslims have been teaching, learning and otherwise communicating wearing the full-face veil for centuries in Islamic countries all around the world.

It’s also unclear why Wilshaw feels the need to single out the niqab: if inspectors feel that learning is being impaired in any way, by any item of dress or obstacle to communication, surely they are able to reflect that in their report without the niqab being specified as a potential reason for an ‘inadequate’ rating.

But this policy is particularly concerning given that it follows a trend in recent weeks and months that has seen the practise, expression or even discussion of Islam in schools as suspicious.

Since the implementation of the ‘Prevent’ strategy, 400 Muslim children under the age of 10 have been referred to the ‘anti-radicalisation’ programme, and new E-safety legislation is forcing schools to install software which tracks the use of words such as ‘Pakistan’, ‘Islam’ and ‘Quran’. 

Launching a new ‘Educate against Hate’ website this week which encourages teachers to look out for ‘warning signs’ of radicalisation such as rapid conversion to religion, Education secretary Nicky Morgan admitted that conversion to Christianity ‘of course’ doesn’t count as one such warning sign – showing the clear disparity between the treatment of Christians and Muslims in this country.

When we make young Muslim children feel monitored, isolated and demonised for practising their religion in our schools, we damage irreparably community cohesion, trust and mutual respect. We lose the potential for discussion of difficult but important topics – and opportunities for truly valuable learning. Children in this country are at risk of radicalisation – but we need to tackle this through education, not demonisation.

Indeed, if Michael Wilshaw wants to eliminate barriers to learning in schools, he should perhaps look to the overassessment, rigid focus on examinations and targets, and back-breaking teacher workload which now characterise our education system. Allowing both teachers and pupils to teach, learn – and wear – what they like would do children a world of good.

Sophie van der Ham is co-chair of the Young Greens

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95 Responses to “Comment: Ofsted – not the niqab – is impairing learning in schools”

  1. Graham Coupe

    I do not agree with you. Israel is no better if not worse than countries like Saudi Arabia.

  2. Dave

    Oh dear. The Conservatives have found Labour’s kryptonite.

    Labour has to continue to support the Muslims because 25% of their votes come from Muslims. Without those votes Labour is finished for all time. Problem is that 75% of the population detest Muslims. The Conservatives only need to be moderately anti-Islam and it forces Labour to be strongly pro-Islam. This puts Labour on the wrong side of the argument as far as the voters are concerned. The Tories get almost zero votes from Muslims, so there is nothing for them to lose. If they give fundamentalist Muslims a kicking now and then it won’t do them much harm but it will make Corbyn’s obsessive pro-Muslim pro-migrant pro-Palestinian pro-Middle-East stance ever more obvious. All the time that Labour is obsessing over issues that don’t win more votes, they are not spending time on issues that could win votes.

    Expect Labour’s vote share to drop well below 25% in 2020. Their white working class vote will drop close to zero.

  3. Fasdunkle

    “Muslims have been teaching, learning and otherwise communicating wearing the full-face veil for centuries in Islamic countries all around the world”

    I just looked around me, I can’t see anything invented or built by a muslim

  4. Selohesra

    You are forgetting the postal votes – they will save Labour’s bacon if you pardon the expression

  5. Stay Puft

    Didn’t help them in 2015. Even that won’t help them anymore. Tee-hee!

  6. AraucaniaPatagonia

    It’s remarkable how much common ground the culturally Marxist authoritarian left finds with culturally Conservative religious authoritarians…

  7. Stay Puft

    And in 100 years, the Owen Jones of the day will say they definitely did invent it and anyone who disagrees is a nasty islamophobe.

    That is, of course, if the human race hasn’t been wiped out long before then by muslims launching nukes.

  8. AraucaniaPatagonia

    Throw ’em all off – they’re regretful “collateral damage” in the fight to build a better, multicultural world. You know, like the hundreds of millions murdered in the name of Marxism (Maoism, Leninism and any other nonsense left-wing -ism) during the 20th century.

  9. Stay Puft

    Israel, the 100th smallest country, with less than 1/1000th of the world’s population, can lay claim to the following:

    The cellphone was developed in Israel by Israelis working in the Israeli branch of Motorola, which has its largest development centre in Israel.

    Most of the Windows NT and XP operating systems were developed by Microsoft-Israel.

    The Pentium MMX Chip technology was designed in Israel at Intel.

    Both the Pentium-4 microprocessor and the Centrino processor were entirely designed, developed and produced in Israel.

    The Pentium microprocessor in your computer was most likely made in Israel.

    Voice mail technology was developed in Israel.

    Both Microsoft and Cisco built their only R&D facilities outside the US in Israel.

    The technology for the AOL Instant Messenger ICQ was developed in 1996 by four young Israelis.

    Israel has the highest ratio of university degrees to the population in the world.

    In proportion to its population, Israel has the largest number of startup companies in the world. In absolute terms, Israel has the largest number of startup companies than any other country in the world, except the U.S. (3,500 companies mostly in hi-tech).

    With more than 3,000 high-tech companies and startups, Israel has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the world — apart from the Silicon Valley, U. S.

    Israel is ranked #2 in the world for venture capital funds right behind the U. S.

    Outside the United States and Canada, Israel has the largest number of NASDAQ listed companies.

    On a per capita basis, Israel has the largest number of biotech startups.

    Twenty-four per cent of Israel’s workforce holds university degrees, ranking third in the industrialized world, after the United States and Holland and 12 per cent hold advanced degrees.

    Israel has the third highest rate of entrepreneurship — and the highest rate among women and among people over 55 – in the world.

    Israel has the world’s second highest per capita of new books.

    Israel is the only country in the world that entered the 21st century with a net gain in its number of trees, made more remarkable because this was achieved in an area considered mainly desert.

    Israel has more museums per capita than any other country.

    Israeli scientists developed the first fully computerized, no-radiation, diagnostic instrumentation for breast cancer.

    An Israeli company developed a computerized system for ensuring proper administration of medications, thus removing human error from medical treatment. Every year in U. S. hospitals 7,000 patients die from treatment mistakes.

    Israel’s Givun Imaging developed the first ingestible video camera, so small it fits inside a pill. Used to view the small intestine from the inside, cancer and digestive disorders.

    Researchers in Israel developed a new device that directly helps the heart pump blood, an innovation with the potential to save lives among those with heart failure. The new device is synchronized with the camera, helps doctors diagnose heart’s mechanical operations through a sophisticated system of sensors.

    Israel leads the world in the number of scientists and technicians in the workforce, with 145 per 10,000, as opposed to 85 in the U. S., over 70 in Japan, and less than 60 in Germany. With over 25% of its work force employed in technical professions. Israel places first in this category as well.

    A new acne treatment developed in Israel, the Clear Light device, produces a high-intensity, ultraviolet-light-free, narrow-band blue light that causes acne bacteria to self-destruct — all without damaging surrounding skin or tissue.

    An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a large-scale solar-powered and fully functional electricity generating plant, in southern California’s Mojave desert.

  10. AraucaniaPatagonia

    Not really. Left-wing politics has become lazy, simple and easy for the hard-of-thinking:

    Thatcher – boo!
    Cameron – pig-porking Etonian!
    Privatisation – selling the family silver.
    NHS – Only 24/48 hours to save it!
    Taxes – the higher, the better.

    There’s a simple slogan for everything, explaining everything, without you having to tax your brain too hard – it’s very much like religion in that respect.

  11. Stay Puft

    Enlighten us on what scientific and technological advances have been made by the muslim world in the last 100 years.

  12. jj

    “Muslims have been teaching, learning and otherwise communicating wearing the full-face veil for centuries in Islamic countries all around the world.’
    Well, yes, because most people are wearing it. In the UK most people are not, it is a physical barrier to both progress and inclusion, any culture that indoctrinated children to wear a facial or head covering its exactly standing for the liberty and free will of women.
    The fact this article has more comments than Facebook shares is an indication that there isn’t exactly widespread agreement with this opinion piece.

  13. jj

    Israel…. you can enter and live in the country whether you are Jewish, Muslim, Christian or atheist, albeit minorities ave a hard time.
    Saudi Arabia…. if they suspect yo have been to Israel any time in your life, immediately barred from entering. Stoning of people for being apostates. No democracy. Women can’t drive cars ffs. Minorities are discriminated against savagely and alienated while living in basic slavery.
    And you honestly think Saudi Arabia is a better country to live in… L O L

  14. Howard Fuller

    The first question is how does Ms van der Ham expect these kids to learn when their religion is foisted on them in ways that are divisive, oppressive and more to the point a complete betrayal of the concept of equal rights for women. As always “Islam” is treated as the victim when in reality this backwards looking medieval theology is the biggest barrier to equality, diversity and freedom for Muslim children. The need to ensure that women are treated as more than mere chattels for men has never been more essential.

    The Young Greens have succumbed to supporting the worst elements demonstrated by the far-left. I’m not sure why this blog is carrying such reactionary nonsense. Women’s rights are for all. Islam is not an excuse for misogyny in our schools or elsewhere in our society.

  15. cynic

    Ah! Just like being a Lefty then. Is the Left a sub-set of Islam, or is it the other way about?

  16. Hotfudge

    Why are you making excuses for the face-veil? Even if it is a matter of individual choice for SOME adults, can children really be making a free choice to wear it?

    Muslim feminists have been challenging the ideology behind the face-veil for decades. The Egyptian activist Hoda Shaarawi took it off in public in 1923, to great applause.

    What sort of left-wing feminist are you?

  17. Francine Palant

    Sorry, let’s be clear wearing a Niqab impairs every aspects of a normal life not just education. Have you tried one? Try to cross the road? Try to watch your class with no lateral vision. Name one country where wearing the Niqab is compulsory ( or even just common) and where women are treated equally to men. Not One! So stop defending the indefensible!

  18. jesus

    Right now Britain and Europe are on the brink of the abyss and reading articles like this reassures me that when the food starts running out it won’t be the right wingers that go hungry. Enjoy your delusions whilst the power is still on you lefty retards.

  19. Freddy Bin Yusuf

    Why is Sophie referring to chattels this way? They are property, not schoolchildren.

  20. Dave

    You can also vote in Israeli elections regardless of your religion and some 1.5 million Muslims do just that. Some Bedouin Muslims even fight with the Israeli army. Jews cannot vote in Saudi Arabia because Saudi Arabia drove all the Jews out of the country shortly after Israel was formed – which turned out to be rather convenient for them. You never hear this stuff on the BBC.

  21. Dave

    Good news! Lesbianism isn’t considered a major sin in Islam because by definition no intercourse can have occurred. Mostly they just get beaten half to death by their parents before being married off to some old bloke.

    And don’t forget that homosexuality is perfectly OK in Islam as long as you do it with a little boy. Refer to Bache Bazi for more details.

  22. Dave

    “If 2.7million Muslims want their kids to be raised as if this was the middle ages, then the Labour party should support it as long as there are votes in it” – I think that sums up your position.

    Well I don’t know how you can live with yourself. I quite like the idea of going back to a time before Roy Jenkins was Home Secretary and re-doing that bit again, but going back to the time of Richard the Lionheart would be a bit too far surely. Maybe going back that far has its benefits though – it was a long time before socialism.

  23. Dave

    I love the irony of her calling herself “Green”. No environmentalism mentioned – it’s all radical left politics. Kate Hudson was obviously right when she was bragging about how the Communist Party of GB had thoroughly infiltrated the Green movement in the UK.

  24. Dave

    Isn’t the real problem that they are sitting their proudly announcing that they have no intention of learning anything because they intend on making themselves the wholly owned property of whichever man they are effectively sold to by their parents and will remain for the rest of their lives re-enacting the medieval period as if the Enlightenment had never happened or was widely regarded as a “very bad thing”?

    If we don’t, as a culture, believe in progress it seems we don’t believe in very much at all.

  25. Dave

    Not much mention of environmentalism in her profile. More a radical leftie with a rather curious interpretation of the term “liberal progressive”

  26. Dave

    Sounds like another foreign Marxist family telling the Anglo-Saxons how they should be.

  27. Billo Qasira

    ‘Kryptonite’ is the exact word!
    Non Muslim minorities, Hindus, Sikhs, black Christians are abandoning Labour too. They view Labour as the party of Islam.

  28. Lennnie

    As Muslims only make up 5% of the population in the UK I have to call bullshit on this one. Although I do think that no religion should influence kids’ in school.

  29. Dave

    5% of the 40million voters would be 2million votes. According to IPSOS Mori, 80% of ethnic minorities vote Labour. This implies that 1.6million votes for Labour came from Muslims. Thus 16% of Labour’s vote came from Muslims, not 25% as I stated (although you need to take account that some Muslim votes go to the LibDems to keep the Tories out in some seats). Nevertheless, without that 16% Labour would be unable to win a General Election, so the main point stands.

    In passing I would also point out that Muslims make up only 1/3rd of the ethnic vote, so assuming IPSOS Mori is correct and 80% of ethnic voters go for Labour, this means Labour gets 48% of its vote from ethnic minorities. Since 1945 a staggering 7million white working class voters have stopped voting Labour to be replaced by imported voters. Once you realise this you understand why Labour is so desperate for mass immigration of any kind, and why they continually prostrate themselves in front of the growing power of Islam in the UK, and just how bereft of principle the left has become. They really would happily stand by and watch while thousands of vulnerable girls get raped for years if it gave them a chance of power. All of them would.

  30. Rick

    Clearly face coverings have to be banned.

  31. Mike Stallard

    Sophie – practise is a verb: practice is a noun. Different.

  32. Faerieson

    I believe that it would be fair to consider ‘the wearing of the niqab,’ and all that this entails, as an impairment to life. This should not really need an explanation, as anything that so divides a society must be detrimental.

    Ofsted- Michael Wilshaw or whoever- has merely observed the obvious. But, if we’re looking at the effects of divisions in any society, then Ofsted must also be culpable. They have been nothing more than the tool of successive governments who have all sought to either divide society to their own ends or else at the behest of their paymasters.

  33. Faerieson

    An interesting point- only right in an ‘educational’ piece- otherwise we allow our language to be dumbed down.
    But… have you noticed an almost-undeclared attempt, amongst writers, to dispense with the ‘practise’ spelling?

  34. Mike Stallard

    I had contact recently with a CoE clergyman and the grammar and spelling were appalling! But it is no use, for example, going on about split infinitives and so on. I do reckon though that your point about an educational piece ought to be noted by Sophie.

  35. Lamia

    An idiotic article.

    For a start, it’s unclear exactly why the niqab might be an obstacle to learning.

    Because human communication and interraction tends involves not just words but also body language and facial expressions. Covering the face is to the detriment of this.

    How many serious conversations, involving information and discussion, do you have, when the other person is actually there with you, with your face covered, or your back to that person?

    It’s not impossible to teach with a full face veil, but it makes it far more difficult. When we interract with others, we use other people’s expressions to evaluate whether we are understanding and being understood. That is quite basic. You might as well ask why we put lights on in our homes after dark. It’s possible to feel our way round in the dark, but it’s much more difficult and we will probably miss things (and knock others over).

    An article that affects not to understand at all why face coverings could be an impediment to learning is just silly.

    Muslims have been teaching,
    learning and otherwise communicating wearing the full-face veil for
    centuries in Islamic countries all around the world.

    QED. Perhaps that has contributed to the low standards of literacy and education in many Muslim countries compared to non-Muslim ones.

  36. Mark

    Well, on evidence (yes evidence) rapid conversion to Christianity is not a marker for possible extremism.
    I’ve lost count of those arrested for terrorism offences who have “Converted to Islam x months ago”.

    A caller to a radio station this week, on the subject of “hate crime”, described how he made the effort to make friends with his new Muslim neighbours some years back, one being an eight year-old boy. He was successful in doing that. The eight year old has grown up to late teens and has taken to chucking bricks at his house, calling him a “white bastard” and “kuffar.” The man blames this behaviour on “Islamophobia”.
    Not the rise of radical Islamism, but Islamophobia.

    I can see it now, any degree of “PREVENT” will lead to accusations such as this, when a young man engages in extremism, the cries will be, “he was such a nice boy, and then PREVENT turned his head.”

  37. jj

    Back up your sentiments with facts, then you may actually realise the painful truth Graham.

  38. jj

    And for 700 years, all the way up until the 70s legally taking Africans also from Eastern Africa. The East African Slave Trade that schools never mention. Has there ben any apology for that? Of course not, as it caries on illegally to this day. Mauritania only abolished slavery officially a few years ago, what progressive countries eh…

  39. jj

    Algebra thousands of years ago, but hasn’t brought many people any joy!

  40. jj

    The fact that young girls are wearing it is an indication that the parents ant exactly standing for liberty o a child. Don’t think many children enjoy having a facial an hair covering, very uncomfortable and likely itchy, unless they have been brainwashed to do so, by their forceful parents.

  41. jj

    Strongly discouraged IMO.

  42. Max Schumacher

    While neoliberalism surely produced its own barriers to learning, wearing (and therefore promoting to wear) is a genuine hindrance to learning. It should be sufficient to say that schools are not places to practice religion, and if it isn’t, take a look at the way schools in islamic countries work (not to mention Quran “schools”/madrassas).
    How can one possibly forget so totally that it was always the left in European history who tried to break the control of religion over public education, only to let another religion takeover softly, softly today? If we freethinkers don’t defend the right to secular schools, we will have to suffer that rightwing xenophobes wrongly pose as defenders of freedom while at the same time being used as useful idiots by people with a totally different agenda.

  43. Faerieson

    I’m inclined to agree with all that you have written about ‘fundamentalist Islam,’ but suspect that your’s might also have been a wider swipe.

    But there are really two separate issues here, mangled into one article. The niqab impairs more than learning, it impairs life. How could it not, in subjugating women so?

    The second issue is ‘Ofsted and the impairment that this has on education.’ To have mangled the two issues so the writer has undermined an otherwise (extremely) valid point. There are a few more serious investigations into whether this has been the case, and they are overwhelmingly quite damning. They have also been very quickly buried by successive governments, even when they have been commissioned by said government and have cost millions to undertake. We should be asking why this might be happening.

    If so many of the educators find fault with Ofsted something cannot be right.

  44. Faerieson

    With your blinkered perspective you taint any vilid point that you might ever happen to stumble across.

  45. Wendle Trendle

    The left has become a parody of itself.

    The working class betrayed so that rich kid activists can play.

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