Last week, the chief inspector urged people to report concerns about fundamentalist groups influencing school policy and announced that Ofsted inspectors will talk to primary school girls who wear hijabs over concerns that it could be interpreted as “sexualisation of young girls”.
The prospect of the sexualisation of young girls is definitely a worrying one. However, the ridiculous position of suggesting that the covering of a young girl’s hair is sexualising her is actually quite alarming. My daughter asked me if she could start wearing a hijab recently. I can say unreservedly that this had nothing to do with the process of sexualisation. She rides a bike, swims, climbs trees – she is 9. Sexualisation could not be further from her mind.
The reason behind her request could possibly be because she sees her mother as her primary role model, and therefore she wishes to "be like mummy". Possibly in the same way that girls like to wear their mother's high- heeled shoes or jewellery.
If the concern is that these young girls are being forced to do something that they don’t want to do under duress, then perhaps we need to question all religious practice where children are involved.
If this is the genuine concern then do we need to ask other children if they have been forced to wear particular religious symbols? If so, what about Sikh boys who wear a turban or top knot? Or Jewish boys who wear the skull cap? Or how do we justify the baptism of infants in the Catholic faith? I am sure that their permission was not sought prior to the baptism ceremony. Or is this comment under the guise of safeguarding along with the Prevent agenda? Again? As a Muslim parent and as a Muslim teacher, it just feels like we are being marginalised repeatedly.
Hasn't Ofsted got enough to prioritise within schools without creating another issue, one which "others" Muslims again? Perhaps the inspectorate could, instead, look at the impact of dwindling budgets that are taking their toll on issues within schools, such as mental health. Could this be an area of focus? This year alone saw a 70 per cent increase in young girls self-harming. Or Ofsted could consider how so many teachers are now having to buy teaching supplies themselves. Or the fact that many children turn up to school hungry. Or teachers’ workload. Or the retention of experienced teachers.
The list is endless, so why would Ofsted choose to focus on an issue that affects such a tiny proportion of the population.
Muslims in the UK are 5 per cent of the population. Take into the equation the number of children, and then the number of girls of the relevant age, and the number is miniscule.
Hasn’t Ofsted got bigger fish to fry?
Anjum Peerbacos is an English teacher in London