Head of Ofsted backs St Stephen’s headteacher over hijab ban

St Stephen's Primary School in East Ham

St Stephen's Primary School in East Ham - Credit: Archant

The head of Ofsted has offered her support to the headteacher of an East Ham school which banned the hijab for under eights.

In a speech due to be made to a Church of England education conference today, Amanda Spielmen will back St Stephen’s Primary School headteacher Neena Lall’s decision to stop the youngest pupils from wearing the Islamic headscarf in class, saying school leaders have the right to set uniform rules “as they see fit”.

The school, in Whitfield Road, reversed the policy last month after a backlash against the decision.

Ms Spielman will say: “School leaders must have the right to set school uniform policies in a way that they see fit, in order to promote cohesion.

“It is a matter of deep regret that this outstanding school has been subject to a campaign of abuse by some elements within the community.

“I want to be absolutely clear, Ofsted will always back heads who take tough decisions in the interests of their pupils.”

The inspector will say that such freedoms promoted by schools hold “no truck for ideologies that seek to close minds or narrow opportunity” and leaders will have to react.

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“Occasionally that will mean taking uncomfortable decisions or having tough conversations,” she will say.

“It means not assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone. And it means schools must not be afraid, to call out practices, whatever their justification, that limit young people’s experiences and learning in school.

“In that regard schools must not, in their entirely correct goal of promoting tolerance, shy away from challenging fundamentalist practice where it appears in their schools or communities.

“Similarly schools must not allow pressure from certain elements of school communities to dictate school policy, nor should we allow vocal parental minorities to pressure other parents and children to act or dress against their wishes. Giving way to the loudest voices is the opposite of tolerance.”