Ofsted has been accused of scrutinising young Muslim girls who wear the hijab because they want to “look like their mum”.
Labour MP Shabana Mahmood grilled Amanda Spielman on the subject when the chief inspector of schools appeared before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.
In 2017 Ms Spielman announced that inspectors would ask girls why they were wearing the Islamic headscarf at primary school.
At the time, the head of Ofsted said: “While respecting parents’ choice to bring up their children according to their cultural norms, creating an environment where primary school children are expected to wear the hijab could be interpreted as sexualisation of young girls.
“In seeking to address these concerns, and in line with our current practice in terms of assessing whether the school promotes equality for their children, inspectors will talk to girls who wear such garments to ascertain why they do so in the school.”
But when quizzed on how the conversations with the girls are held, Ms Spielman said she did not know as she is not involved in designing individual inspections.
Asked whether Muslim parents were consulted before Ofsted announced the position, Ms Spielman said she couldn’t remember “off the top of my head”.
Ms Mahmood asked: “If it is one of the outcomes of your comments that little girls now feel challenged and scrutinised by adult state officials for the basic human act of wanting to copy what their mum is wearing on her head, would you personally consider that to have been an appropriate and successful outcome of what your comments have done?”
Ms Spielman replied: “My concern is that children at school should be free from the pressures that exist in many communities outside school.
“We know that some children are feeling pressurised to also wear headscarves, that it can make children unhappy to be told that they’re not good because they’re not wearing a headscarf.
“This is something which is difficult and is contested, as you say, but I don’t think that we can say that simply saying children should be allowed to look like their mothers is the solution.”