Religious extremists are using schools to narrow children’s horizons and “pervert education”, England’s chief inspector of schools is warning.
Amanda Spielman says some community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds” – with extremist ideology in some cases.
Ofsted inspectors are increasingly coming into contact with such extremists, she says.
She is asking head teachers to confront those who foster extremist behaviour.
“Rather than adopting a passive liberalism that says anything goes, for fear of causing offence, schools leaders should be promoting a muscular liberalism,” Ms Spielman will say at a conference held by the Church of England in London.
“That sort of liberalism holds no truck for ideologies that seek to close minds or narrow opportunity.
“Occasionally that will mean taking uncomfortable decisions or having tough conversations.
“It means not assuming that the most conservative voices in a particular faith speak for everyone.”
She added: “Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education.
“Under the pretext of religious belief, they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology.
“Freedom of belief in the private sphere is paramount, but in our schools it is our responsibility to tackle those who actively undermine fundamental British values or equalities law.”
Ms Spielman has previously criticised practices in supplementary schools and some private faith schools.
She is understood to be making the speech in support of 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.
Generally speaking, Muslim girls, although not all of them, wear the hijab after the age of 10.
Ms Lall also tried to stop younger pupils from taking part in Ramadan fasting during school hours.
This prompted a backlash from some members of the local community and parents, although many parents voiced support for the move.
‘Campaign of abuse’
Ms Spielman will say: “School leaders must have the right to set school uniform policies in a way that 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 some elements within the community.
“I want to be absolutely clear – Ofsted will always back heads who take tough decisions in the interests of their pupils.”
Ofsted said Ms Spielman was not targeting the Islamic faith, but all forms of fundamentalism.
Dr Zubaida Haque, of the Runnymede Trust, wrote recently in the Times Educational Supplement that head teachers’ attempts to ban the wearing of hijabs or other religious items in schools could contradict British values Ofsted was trying to promote, including mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
A Department for Education official said: “Extremism has no place in our society – that’s why we changed the law and the requirements on schools so that they have to actively promote the ‘fundamental British values’ of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and the mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.
“If there are any allegations of schools promoting ideologies or discrimination in the classroom, we will not hesitate to take action.”