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. Daniel

    This is a really poor anti liberal article. Islam, conservative at best fascist at worst, has no place in our schools, keep religious & political beliefs private & don’t inflict on our young. Shame on you Sophie.

  2. Daniel

    Well said, fully agree. This article is shameful

  3. Negotiated Settlement

    Is this article purely written to generate clickbait?

    I ask as it certainly isn’t based on those things called facts. In fact it is disgusting.

  4. Stay Puft

    I do love the irony of Sophie describing herself on Twitter as “Feministy.”

    Yes, where was your outrage, Sophie, when over 1000 muslim men rampaged through Cologne raping and assaulting German women?

    Or where was your outrage when a 22 year old woman was stabbed to death this week by a Somalian muslim?

    Is it pure coincidence that women are regarded as property, as baby making machines and as sub-human by the religion of peace and that these men are all from islamic states where marriage to children is legal and there is ZERO PERCENT prosecution for rape?

    Tell us more about how rotten Ofsted is, Sophie. Let’s just ignore the FEMALE victims of islamist misogyny, because that would be politically incorrect and we must respect the rights of muslim men to rape and assault girls and women as much as they like.

  5. Stay Puft

    She calls herself a feminist on her Twitter profile. Satire is dead.

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