Head of Ofsted again defends headteachers who make ‘tough’ decisions following hijab ban controversy

Ms Spielman defended the headteacher of St Stephen's Primary School for her tough decision making. P

Ms Spielman defended the headteacher of St Stephen's Primary School for her tough decision making. Picture: Google - Credit: Archant

Ofsted’s chief inspector reiterated her defence of the headteacher of East Ham’s Stephen’s Primary School this morning.

Addressing a parliamentary education committee, Amanda Spielman said individual schools shouldn’t be “bullied” by lobbyists and said she stood by headteachers who make decisions “fairly and sensibly”.

Neena Lall banned the wearing of hijab for girls under eight, but soon withdrew the decision after complaints from parents, governor resignations and a scathing letter from Newham’s councillors.

Today, Ms Spielman said that according to government uniform policy guidance, it is the jurisdiction of the headteacher to decide on uniform policy, and while that guidance says parents should be consulted, this doesn’t mean getting permission from every individual parent.

She said: “It’s absolutely correct that we respect a school’s ability to make the decisions they make.

“It is the head’s responsibility and heads make them in light of feedback from parents groups.

“You typically have, in most schools, a strong overlap between the desires of different parents, but the head has to be the ultimate arbiter.”

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She said the issue in St Stephen’s was not one of religious discrimination but of cultural preference, as religious guidance does not state that girls must wear the hijab before they reach puberty.

She also admitted that the reversal of the ban led to a “dangerous precedent”, where heads who make difficult decisions are then bullied into backing down.

She said: “I don’t think individual schools should be bullied by national lobbying campaigns.

“It prevents parents from making reasonable efforts to provide working solutions.”

Ms Spielman suggested a change in the system, where such controversial decisions are not made by individual schools, but rather by local authorities. She said: “We have a very autonomous school system with a great deal of power to individual heads. If we end up with this asymmetry, where people running small schools can be targeted and bullied this way, then we’re in a very worrying world.”

She also admitted to being oblivious of a spoof video created of Ms Lall which compares her to Hitler, but said it sounded “extremely disturbing”.

On Friday, more than 50 people attended a meeting in Stratford with Newham’s Stand up to Racism, councillors and campaigners, to discuss how to reduce the demonisation of women wearing the hijab.