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Ofsted condemns council for not backing hijab ban school

Inspectorate finds that St Stephen's Primary in Newham still offers 'outstanding' education

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Ofsted has condemned Newham Council for its lack of support for the primary at the centre of a row over its decision to ban pupils from wearing the hijab.

The criticism comes in a letter outlining the findings of a special extra Ofsted inspection of St Stephen's Primary, in the East London borough, at the end of last month.

It was conducted because Ofsted chief inspector Amanda Spielman (pictured) was concerned about "a potential breakdown in trust between school leaders and parents" after the media reported the primary's decision to remove the hijab from the uniform for girls aged 7 and under.

Headteacher Neena Lall also tried to stop young children fasting at school in case they became ill. But she ended up withdrawing the hijab ban after it led to her being abused and compared to Hitler.

In their letter, published today, Ofsted inspectors report that leaders at St Stephen's were "effective" and "continue to run an outstanding school". 

However, they cricisise Newham Council for not doing enough to support the primary as it faced a wave of "manipulative and sometimes abusive correspondence and comments made by email and across social media" over the hijab ban.

Council comes under fire

"Considering the position the school found itself in, and the fact that some correspondence appears to have been coordinated, the local authority’s approach has been perfunctory at best, stopping short of supporting the school in its policy position," the inspectors write.

"Instead, the local authority has positioned itself as a moderator to manage relationships between the school, councillors and community groups. The expected level of emotional care and public support for school staff from the local authority has been too limited and, as a result, ineffective."

The Ofsted letter also reveals that St Stephen's has had to stand up to local community leaders over school policy in the past.

"For example, the school took decisive action when an individual within the local mosque wrote to parents stating that children would likely be removed from the madrasa if they missed evening classes to take part in a planned school residential activity," the letter says.

"The school rightly challenged this and, as a result, children who otherwise would not have benefited from the residential trip were able to attend without negative consequence."

Newham Council told the Evening Standard that it refuted Ofsted's suggestion about a lack of support for St Stephen's.

"With such a diverse community, that has more than 200 languages spoken, councils must play a role in ensuring mutual respect and tolerance for those with different faiths and beliefs," a council spokeswoman said.

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