Call for education chief to step down over veil row

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School and community leaders have called for the resignation of the country’s education chief following comments which could see schools where teachers wear “full veils” in class downgraded.

Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw has given his “full support” to schools and colleges which “decide to take a stand against the inappropriate wearing of the veil”.

Sir Michael Wilshaw

Sir Michael Wilshaw

The chief inspector told inspectors they could downgrade schools, or rate them “inadequate”, if they thought wearing a veil was damaging teaching and stood in the way of “positive social interaction.”

He added: “I have also made clear to my inspectors that where leaders are condoning the wearing of the face veil by staff members or by pupils, when this is clearly hindering communication and effective teaching, they should give consideration to judging the school as inadequate.”

Muhktar Master from Stand up to Racism( Preston) said: “The recent comment is just one new element, in what is becoming a tidal wave of criticism and discrimination aimed primarily at Muslims and Islam. With the threat of possible Ofsted inspections of Islamic out-of-school madressas already looming, Ofsted needs a chief who is balanced, fair and not prepared to dance to the tune of his political masters.”

Sam Ud-din, teacher and county secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: “Lancashire NUT deplore the ongoing divisive approaches being taken by this government to manage any perceived problems relating to ‘lack of positive social interactions’, and specifically the latest announcement from Sir Michael Wilshaw as head of Ofsted.

“There are practical problems involved in making judgements about the ‘educational impact of veil-wearing’ and, he added: “The message yet again being sent to schools and the wider communities in which they operate is that head teachers, staff, pupils and parents cannot be allowed to express their own views and must instead have these imposed on them by a central authority.”

Preston City councillor and school governor John Brown said the comments had racist overtones and were “another example of the polarisation of the Ofsted process”.

He added: “I thoroughly deplore the comments made by Michael Wilshaw. In my opinion, it is a completely unnecessary diversion from the problems currently being experienced in education.”

A spokesman for ASCOL, the heads union, said Ofsted should not judge schools on uniform policies, adding: “Inspectors should focus on what schools achieve rather than what people wear.”

Preston Imam Elyas Desai said: “His ( Sir Michael’s) comments clearly demonstrate that he needs educating in religious tolerance and also the Islamic perspective, reason and benefits of the veil.”

Preston City councillor and primary school governor John Brown said the comments had racist overtones and were “another example of the polarisation of the Ofsted process”.

Professor Michael Lavalette said: “The government should not be intervening into schools in this high handed way. They are fostering division where none existed before. The suggestion from the chief that the face needs to be uncovered to allow understanding is a strange one- what about doctors who wear masks, are they not understood? What about the radio - can people not understand it because they can’t see faces?”

The Department for Education says it is “clearly right” that if veils are interfering with learning that Ofsted should take action.