Schools face a difficult balancing act when respecting religious requirements and cultural preferences, the head of Ofsted has said.
Amanda Spielman denied that her decision to support a school that faced a backlash over banning the hijab for young girls put her on a potential collision course with families and communities.
And she suggested that there is a “difficult line” between respecting religious requirements and cultural preferences, adding that a child who likes wearing their “mother’s heels and lipstick” would not be allowed them in school.
Speaking after her speech, she said: “We have no desire to collide. Our interest is the interest of children and making sure every child in the country has a good education and leaves school well prepared for life in modern Britain.”
She added: “We don’t say that a child who really likes their mother’s heels and lipstick can come to primary school wearing heels and lipstick.
“There’s a difficult line between respecting religious requirements – and, for some, wearing a hijab post-puberty is seen as a religious requirement – and cultural preferences, and wearing lipstick and
high heels might be one of those.”
Ms Spielman used her speech to put on the record “full support for Neena Lall, the headteacher of St Stephen’s school in Newham and her leadership team” following the hijab u-turn.
She told delegates Ofsted inspectors visited the school on Wednesday, speaking to the head, staff, pupils and pupils.
Ms Spielman said: “Schools must have the right to set school uniform policies as 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 those who want to undermine the school’s position.
“Ofsted will always back heads who take tough decisions in the interests of their pupils.”
The watchdog boss also described how inspectors are increasingly coming across those who want to “actively pervert” the purpose of education.
She warned schools that they should not assume that the “most conservative voices” of a particular faith group speak for everyone, and that they must not be afraid to “call out” any practices that they
feel could have a negative impact on young people.