U.K. education regulator backs teacher in hijab row

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Indian-American headmistress tried to ban hijab at school

The head of Britain’s schools regulator, OFSTED, has given her strong backing to an Indian-origin headmistress of a state primary school in London who has courted controversy over her attempt to ban girls under the age of eight from wearing the hijab in class.

She warned that some, under the “pretext of religious belief”, were trying to “actively pervert the purpose of education… to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate and in the worst cases indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology”. Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of OFSTED, on Thursday voiced her “full support” for Neena Lall, the head teacher at St. Stephen’s School in the east London borough of Newham. “Schools must have the right to set school uniform policies as they see fit, in order to promote cohesion,” she said, condemning the abuse the school and Ms. Lall had been subject to.

Everyone in education had a duty to promote “muscular liberalism” rather than a “passive liberalism that says ‘anything goes’ for fear of offence”, she said. “Occasionally, that will mean taking uncomfortable decisions or having tough conversations… 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.”

The school’s decision to bring in the ban, as part of a wider review of school policy, was subsequently reversed, but has attracted much attention nationally. Over 19,000 people signed a petition calling on Ms. Lall to reverse the ban on hijabs for under 8-year-olds and fasting for students at the school, while Ms. Lall and the school were also subject to a social campaign, comparing her to Hitler.