Soon after the uproar about the strategic appointment of a Home Secretary favoured Muslim name person to lead Theresa May’s Commission for Countering Extremism, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector and Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman is grabbing headlines again.
The Hijab conscious Ms Spielman is seemingly obsessed with extremism and now claims that ‘religious extremists are using schools to narrow children’s horizons’. The language of discourse is sensed as the coding for the Muslim community.
She is asking head teachers to confront those who foster extremist behaviour; that is, dragging schools into a scaremongering agenda.
This in essence is no different than what the HMCI Chris Woodhead, first established Ofsted boss, used to do to provoke schools, to discredit teachers, to assert his position and above all, to win headlines. Amongst his controversial remarks he claimed there were “15,000 incompetent teachers” and “I am paid to challenge mediocrity, failure and complacency”.
Ms Spielman is understood making her speech about ‘religious extremists’ in support of her blessed head teacher Neena Lall, of St Stephen’s state primary in east London, who tried to prevent children under the age of eight from wearing the hijab in class.
Ms Spielman not only failed to learn from the Birmingham school scaremongering scandal but also failed to calmly research how the St Stephen’s school has emerged in the national headlines.
[The Sunday Times reported in January that St Stephen’s School in Newham, a borough with one of the highest Muslim populations in the country, had banned the hijab for girls aged under eight, a move strongly opposed by parents and eventually overturned.
But headteacher Neena Lall has since denounced the report and said that she was misled into believing the paper was interested in reporting on the east London school’s strong academic record after it named it “primary school of the year” in a report in November.
“The article which came out in the Sunday Times was completely misleading. Some of the things that happened in that article were not things that have happened at this school and it just inflamed the situation,” Lall told parents at a meeting on 22 January in which she also described the decision to ban the hijab as a “huge error in judgement”]
School is a prime seat of learning and teaching is a noble profession. It is sad that the education pedestal has been used to further divisive socio-political agenda to stir up nationalist emotions, stigmatising a community in the process by identifying it not only the problem but also the cause of the problem.
It would be interesting to trace back some education specific scaremongering – from immigration to the present day ‘extremism’ – where apart from some details, basic premise has remained the same.
A problematic view of immigrants was legalised by the Local Government Act of 1966, stating a negative definition “immigration is the great social problem of this Century and of the next” HANSARD: 1966/67: Volume 29 – p1308.
Section 11 funding to the authorities was a response to the perceived impact of immigration on education through the provisions of the Local Government Act of 1966.
In the early 1980s, Ray Honeyford, head teacher of Drummond Middle School in Bradford, wrote an article critical of multiculturalism and its effect on British education: this was published in January 1984, in The Salisbury Review, a conservative magazine edited by the philosopher Roger Scruton .
Mr Honeyford argued that “a small but growing group of dispossessed, indigenous parents whose schools are, as a direct result of the multiracial dimension, failing their children”.
He was made a hero and his attack on multiculturalism, like Enoch Powell’s ‘blood-bath’ speech, was recycled by the far right elements and media, seriously damaging race relations and creating chaos in the education for a long time.
That era saw the Burnage report regarding the 1986 murder of in the school playground, of a 13-year-old Bangladeshi boy, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, by a white pupil at the same school. Many years after this, I inspected the school where no one seemed to remember that dark part of the history.
I’m not sure how much of all this Ms Spielman knows or whether she realises that what she expects from the schools is to operate educationally inappropriate ‘assimilationist model of education’ discredited decades ago, but what seems obvious is that she is fully aware of what has been happening now; for example, the chain of events from the bogus Muslim-specific ‘Trojan Horse conspiracy’ to discredited Prevent duty to Casey review, politicisation of ‘extremism’, her outburst about ‘hijab’ and of course the government’s strategic recognition and appointments of some Muslim name persons. (buffers!).
One such appointment is the Theresa May’s cabinet member who is responsible for the community matters and has been supporting the chain for his political survival.
Looking at the outcome, there appears to be a small Tory group, shielded by some collusive Muslim name persons, which is determined to keep Muslim community under siege, implicitly perpetuate negativity about them and keep them in the headlines, now using the school.
What flows from all this is the honest and professional message for Ms Spielman to focus on education improvements rather than using the education platform to further the Brexit sharpened scaremongering agenda.