Home / Current Affairs / Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman panders to tabloids in another ideologically driven speech

Ofsted’s Amanda Spielman panders to tabloids in another ideologically driven speech

‘A straw man argument’ is a rhetorical technique giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. It is a technique often used in highly charged emotional debates to subvert critical thinking and objective analysis of complex issues, in order to polarise opinion, and give the illusion of fighting for a morally just cause. The one who engages in this fallacy is said to be ‘attacking a straw man’.

Spielman’s speech to Policy Exchange on Monday 9 July is a particularly splendid example of this fallacy.[1] She warns of ‘Islamist extremists’ ‘fuelled by the online propaganda of Daesh and others’, that ‘prey on a sense of isolation and alienation in some minority communities’. And of course there was the predictable battle cry of ‘red lines’ which ‘have to be defended’ with respect to the ‘rule of law’, ‘democracy’, ‘individual liberty’ and ‘respect for the inherent worth and autonomy of all people’. One might be forgiven for thinking this speech was a battle cry on the eve of war, in the face of an existential threat from ‘Islamic extremists’ to overrun minority communities and destroy the values which underpin our society. It was not. It was simply another tired attempt to vilify the modest hijāb worn by school children and portray BME communities, particularly the Muslim community, as being isolationists who are responsible for the failure of integration, and are fundamentally opposed to British values.

I have no intention of defending the Muslim community’s adherence or non-adherence to the current iteration of ‘British values’ set out in the 2011 Prevent Agenda as part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. To do that would first require an analysis of whether the current iteration of British values is truly representative of the historical development of values that unify this country and give it its unique sense of identity, and whether the omission of key values such as ‘free-speech’ are indicative of a more sinister agenda to censor anti-government discourse. We would also then have to examine the validity, as Spielman herself to her credit points out in her speech, of framing these values in the context of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy instead of a wider debate about core values.

The real issue here is the structural racism which seeks to blame BME communities for geographic ghettoisation and a perceived lack of integration, and the Islamophobia which seeks to portray normative Islamic practices as being a direct threat to British values. How an earth are school girls wearing hijāb a threat to British values? It is just as ridiculous to claim that the Sikh turban undermines democracy, or the Rastafari dreadlocks undermine the rule of law! Hence, Muslims are expected to justify their ‘Britishness’ on a daily basis. Muslims do not need to justify that they are British – they are British. Defining the values of this country is not a creative process decided upon by civil servants and politicians in the Home Office in 2011, who then arbitrarily decide which religious practices do and do not fit their narrow interpretation. Values are intrinsic and deeply held. Muslims have an equal stake in defining the values that matter to them and for this to inform the debate of what constitutes ‘British values’.

It is really revealing how Spielman portrays different communities in her speech and the stereotypes which drive her policy decisions. She makes a number of references to ‘minority communities’ and ‘immigrant populations’, and their perceived lack of integration and ‘accidental segregation’. She also quotes some alarmist figures of how, ‘across England, there are just under 2,000 state-funded schools where more than half of pupils have English as an additional language’. What she conveniently forgets to mention is the fact that many students with English as an Additional Language have the highest rates of progress and attainment in English schools, often coming from highly driven families who value education and see it as a means of self-improvement. It is in fact indigenous white students,[2] particularly boys, who are suffering from chronic levels of underachievement while they are significantly out-performed by their inner city counterparts who are supposed to be trapped in ghettos, unable to integrate and vulnerable to extremists! If we really want to take an objective, non-politicised view of vulnerability to “extremism”, it is precisely these indigenous white students with low aspiration, lack of family members who have had access to higher or further education, and dwindling employment opportunities who are vulnerable to far-right extremism. While Spielman does pay lip service to the dangers of far-right extremism in her speech it is no coincidence that Prevent is most active in boroughs with high Muslim concentrations and has very little presence in the counties with poor performing schools and high concentrations of indigenous white students. It is also fascinating to read the deferential tone used when speaking about Jewish schools, and the ‘collaboration with PaJeS (Partnerships for Jewish Schools) to run information sessions for Jewish school leaders on how they can comply with requirements around equalities and British values in a way that is in line with schools’ religious teachings’. How respectful. Considering some Jewish schools have been found to be redacting GCSE Science exam papers, and be teaching a highly narrow curriculum it is surprising how keen Spielman still is to ensure she works very much within the confines of these schools’ ‘religious teachings’. Spielman does mention in passing that ‘Muslim state schools are almost three times as likely to be outstanding than the national average’ but this comment really needs to be expounded upon. Since the introduction of the new progress 8 figure which measures the improvement of students from the baseline reached at the end of primary school to their attainment at the end of secondary school in 8 key GCSE subjects, the Tauheedul Islam Girls and Boys schools in Blackburn have occupied 1st and 3rd place respectively across the country.[3] Students in these schools have almost achieved a staggering 2 grades above the national average. How ironic that this icon of success is situated in the mono-ethnic, religiously conservative, inner city streets of good old Blackburn!

When Spielman was appointed Chief Inspector of Ofsted in January 2017 the House of Commons education committee rejected her appointment citing a lack of ‘vision and passion’. They insightfully stated:

‘The new HMCI will face the task of leading Ofsted to raise standards and improve the lives of children and young people, and we were unconvinced that Ms Spielman would do this effectively’[4].

If Spielman had done nothing since her appointment except focus on those two key priorities, ‘raise standards and improve the lives of children and young people’ then her time in office would have been well spent. Instead she has largely spent her time grabbing headlines with ideologically driven rants designed more for the consumption of right wing tabloids and think tanks instead of teachers, parents and young people. There has never been a problem with Muslim girls wearing the hijāb – there is no empirical evidence or data supporting the assumption that wearing a hijāb affects educational attainment or restricts participation in school based activities. If hijābs are seen by some as a barrier to integration then Spielman needs to be lecturing those bigots who cannot see beyond the cloth, and not children and parents. It is ironic that Spielman called her speech, ‘The Ties that Bind’ – presumably in the belief that Islamophobia and Structural Racism would be a good platform to unite people in Britain! Perhaps a more fitting title would be the ‘The Lies that Blind’ in recognition that chasing headlines and soundbites only means that the very serious and real challenges faced by young people in the UK today such as online exploitation, a steep rise in mental health problems, chronic social deprivation and rapid changes in curriculum, are neglected.

Also read: Ofsted archives







About Ustadh Abu Haneefah Sohail

Abu Haneefah is an educationalist and student of knowledge. He has worked extensively in community projects in the UK. He holds regular study circles on reflections on the Qur'ān and his field of expertise is the tarbiyya of young people.


  1. The fact of the matter is that Ofsted will flag up ANY school for extremist views and radicalisation if it does not promote liberal social values such as gay rights or feminism. This applies even if the children are 100% white and British and the school is run under Christian values. At the moment the attention is on Islam so secular and Christian schools which flout liberal social values are likely to receive a ‘slap on the wrist’ treatment and very little media coverage compared with Islamic schools.

    This is Ofsted the quasi, political organisation that amended Haringey’s Child Protection Services report, so that Sharon Shoe smith could be sacked and then claim an estimated three quarters of a million in compensation? The same organisation where over 75% of their senior inspectors cannot achieve any common consensus of what a good or outstanding lesson actually looks like? Education is a political ‘hot potato’ and with teacher recruitment at one of its lowest points in over 10 years, the government needs to be looking at how to both recruit and retain professional teachers.

    Ofsted is very far from perfect, but if anything it is probably far too lenient on pulling the plug on schools. Its true raison d’etre is to provide just a few sacrificial goats so that the government can con the public into believing that they actually care about state education. A very big problem in most schools is the amount of disruption in classes, that seriously dilutes the amount of teaching and learning in lessons.
    Don’t believe the rubbish about outstanding schools. I could tell you tales about the so-called outstanding schools where I live that would truly shock you. It’s far, far, worse than Ofsted says it is! Disruption in schools is yet another symptom of a distressed society. Schools are set up to fail. It’s risible that the neoliberals in all the main parties think that rebranding schools will magically make them safe and successful. If parents knew how psychologically toxic most. schools are, they hopefully would insist on urgent change. You judge a society by how it treats its young, old, sick and most vulnerable. Wilshaw, Gove, Blunkett et al, have implemented a most cruel educational revolution.

    The idea that a school is suddenly deemed inadequate because some 6th formers decided to play silly bu**ers on Facebook would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary. Issues like this can be dealt with by the school without putting it on the press pages of the nation as Ofsted well knows. Ofsted was quite happy for kids in so called Trojan Horse schools in Birmingham to be harassed by the tabloid press. In my book that makes them irresponsible. Education secretary, Nicky Morgan, will doubtless try to differentiate between a single-sex school separating genders at the gate, and an Islamic faith school segregating them within a co-ed environment; but its not an Islamic faith School, its a state school……but what this really suggests is that there is good segregation and bad segregation. Of course there is e.g. women choosing to go to an all female gym “good”, women/girls being made to sit at the back of the class/bus “bad”.In other words, segregation is OK if done really thoroughly in separate single-sex schools run by or associated with Christian churches, but is not OK if carried out less thoroughly within mixed schools with a Muslim intake or run by Islamic groups.There are single-sex state schools, many of them with a religious affiliation. It is hatred to try to rout out radicalism before it becomes dangerous? This is politically correct thinking run amok. I shudder to think of what will become of the UK if this becomes mainstream opinion. Ofsted’s rush to tackle extremism in education is symptomatic of a political frenzy born of hatred. There is no doubt that there are the elements of racism and bigotry towards Muslim Schools. Islamophobia is growing rapidly in Europe.

    Ofsted’s conclusions are always going to be couched in the dismal language of political correctness which most parents can see straight through. For example, how many parents at Middle Rasen primary school in rural Lincolnshire are going to be worried about their children’s school being denied ‘outstanding’ status because it offers a “lack of first-hand experience of the diverse make up of modern British society”. I live in a borough where parents fight like mad to get their kids into a ‘special measures’ secondary school and wouldn’t dream of sending them to an allegedly greatly improved ‘outstanding’ school on the overspill estate. Unless the Facebook account was set up and administered from the school as part of its curriculum, I don’t see what business it is of the school to monitor it. Why should the school be condemned by OFSTED for something over which it has no control? It is yet another hysterical outburst by an unaccountable body that allows “something being seen to be done”. Racially profiled basis,” wrong. Ofsted is operating on a religiously profiled basis…

    Ofsted do not like to talk about its own failures. It is being defended to a ridiculous level by the Ministry of Education. When I have written to the Ministry of Education about other, similar, Ofsted failures, I received a reply that Ofsted inspectors judge and grade schools by a multiplicity of variables, GCSEs results being just one, therefore ‘failure’ of Ofsted as suggested by me is of minimal importance. I cannot see these multiple variables in a report, and I think that the Ministry of Education is always in a hurry to condemn teaching and teachers, but always trying to justify unjustifiable Ofsted failures. When teachers rise or fall by their results, there is no reason why Ofsted should not, but in fact they are being put above any criteria by which normal people can judge Ofsted.

    As to reasons why Ofsted is failing in its job. Here are a few, there are more. The move from a 5-days inspection to 2-days inspection (Labour cuts to save money) had catastrophic results for quality of inspections as well as for benefits by way of sound advice which they bring to schools.

    “Islamic extremism” means, praying 5x is Islamic, paying zakat (charity) is Islamic, growing a beard is Islamic, going on Haji is Islamic, a woman wearing headscarf is Islamic etc. Here are some other things that are Islamic….Algebra, numerals, poetry, calligraphy. If a woman who wears the Niqab means she is preserving her beauty and sexuality only for husband, I don’t see what’s wrong with that, is it better if she is wears revealing clothes where she is the property of every men walking down street to goggle at? I personally don’t care about either of them, its a personal choice and you are intolerant anti-Muslim individual.

    Ofsted penalised the school for not having an ‘anti extremism’ policy about how they were preventing their students from becoming extremists. At a recent Ofsted conference, when questioned about when we should write these policies and what they should detail, Ofsted said that schools cannot write these policies yet as DFE have not decided what information is required in them, therefore there is no example and whatever we write will be worthless! There also more boys at John Cass so the separate playing fields have always been in place, as there are more boys go girls in the school. The parents of this school are extremely interested in their child’s education and praise the members of staff frequently for educating their children.

    No one is taking over the country and this school certainly isn’t “extreme”. How are the young people being exposed to Islamic Extremism? What it is that there are a few pupils on a YouTube page which has been created away from school. They are looking at material of preachers who are endorsed by bad groups. But that doesn’t mean they are exposed to extremism or extremists. Its just as the EDL are over the top supporters of the queen. Doesn’t mean that the queen is a bad person because she is endorsed by some right-wing extremists. Does it? Daily Mail please stop adding fuel to the fire with your exaggerated style of writing.

    The general feeling in England towards Muslims is one of disgust and fear. This feeling is growing and is present at all levels of society. As extremist harm more people in the world Muslims in the UK will face more discrimination and hostility.

    The only people that are enjoying life in the UK are the Jews. They live in communities, have their own ambulances, schools, universities and remain unchallenged in this. While they use their influence to make sure that other communities don’t achieve the same. If other communities strive to prosper they use the media to portray a take over, a plot a conspiracy.

    A mere association with a conservative Islamic position has resulted in the school being placed into special measures. This preposterously ridiculous position is simply bigoted in its targeting of Islam. One wonders what the take would be if a Christian society had links to anti-gay Bishops and priest – would the Catholic Church schools be deemed extremist because the Catholic synod rejected proposals for wider acceptance of gay people? Why have not the “narrow” curriculums of Orthodox Jewish schools be brought into the discourse of “extremism”? And, as the poet and writer Michael Rosen Tweeted highlighting the duplicitous standards of neocon Michael Gove, will the links between state-funded Lubavitch schools and illegal West Banks settlements be investigated for “extremism”?

    The “extremism” card-dropping has become the discriminatory practice by which right-wing racists and neocons in the government hide their prejudice against Islam and Muslims.

    There is no need to hide behind convoluted words: the counter-extremism agenda has become a counter-Islam and Muslims agenda. From the blatantly anti-Muslim behaviour of the Ofsted inspectors as highlighted in earlier blogs, to the bandying of labels of extremism upon Muslim speakers to fulfil a neocon political objective. The Clay stone report on charities highlighted some key issues which highlighted the problematic nature of the definition of extremism, and the shadowy method which is being used to apply it. The same problems and incoherence is afflicting a biased Ofsted.

  2. You are/will be brainwashing your believes to your future children on what to do and what not. If my daughter from a young age is willing to wear the hijab I will not oppose it and make her understand that it is empowering her when she reaches puberty and she will be ready for it. When you live in a over sexualised society I believe such precaution is important. The child will progress just as much as the kids not wearing a headscarf in what sense does it make them weaker…apart of you sexualising the children when the Muslim parent prepares them for the real life and teaches what’s right or wrong . Who are you to tell ?

    Where is the freedom of religion? Can she not express her identity at young age. Surely preparation makes one better . I do not want my children to be brainwashed by half naked girls instead I’ll teach her what’s right or wrong and that is my duty not yours not the government. Asking little girls why they wear a headscarf is silly. It is forced on them in one way or another, through dictate by parents, training, social pressure.

    The letter, written by Nadine El-Enany, a senior law lecturer at Birkbeck Law School, University of London, Waqas Tufail, a senior lecturer in criminology at Leeds Beckett University, and Shereen Fernandez, a PhD candidate at Queen Mary University of London, said: “We, the undersigned, ask that Ofsted immediately retract its instruction to inspectors to question primary school children wearing the hijab.

    “We find the decision to single out Muslim children for questioning unacceptable, and insist that no school children be targeted for action on the basis of their race, religion or background.

    “While a wider conversation about the sexualisation of girls in Britain’s culture and economy is welcome, the singling out of Muslim children for investigation is unacceptable.

    “The message the Ofsted decision sends to Muslim women is that the way they choose to dress and the decisions they make in raising their children are subject to a level of scrutiny different to that applied to non-Muslim parents.

    “Further, the Ofsted decision reduces the hijab to a symbol of sexualisation and ignores other interpretations ranging from a display of faith to a symbol of empowerment and resistance. Constructing women and children who wear the hijab as being either sexualised or repressed is both reductive and racist in its reproduction of colonial and Orientalist tropes about them.”

    I believe the head scarf or hijab, covering of certain parts of the body is our right as Muslim’s. It has been revealed in the Quran that we should do so, and also this was the example given to us by the prophet Mohamed’s wives or women in Islam e.g Khadija who was a successful business women.

    We feel free and independent from sexualisation due to wearing the hijab and dressing modestly. Before Islam I use to think I’m free to wear short skirts bikini’s it’s a free world but in reality I was miserable always trying to put on make up, dress to keep up with fashion and be revealing my body to the public which only bought about negative attention.

    I feel liberated after wearing hijab. I don’t have to conform too pretence or show my body to everyone. I feel blessed that I am a Muslim and no one forces me to wear it I’m not married so my husband isn’t forcing me. My daughter if she would like to wear it then I would be very proud of her as she is doing an act of worship by wearing it, as obeying the commend of Allah and being obedient to him is a part of being Muslim.

    There is no compulsion in lslam and most women and female children I know are not forced to wear it in fact the opposite they look up to the women who wear it and then decide for themselves to. In hijab we do not get negative or sexist comments made to us, if anything the inspectors should be questioning those schools who make young girls dress in mini skirts and question those girls about the skirts and sexualisation. If we are living in a free society where Sikhs are allowed to wear peg and turbans and have small daggers, Hindus are allowed to send their children with red dots on their foreheads, Christians can wear crucifixes around their necks if they wish too then why is it always the Muslim religion that has to answer? Quite simply if Muslim girls shouldn’t be allowed to wear headscarf in schools then all of the above should not be allowed either. Maybe the same question can be asked to Sikh children who cover, is that to do with sexualisation also?

    Hijab is a part of our religion and identity it liberates us, we don’t feel forced, sexualised or oppressed in fact I can’t wait to go shopping to pick out new ones with my friends and I’m sure that’s what these girls think too.

    Hijab is more than just a head covering. When a girl chooses to wear the hijab, she is choosing to represent Islam. To behave with dignity, treat others with respect, uphold the highest mannerisms, and be a positive influence within society. She is also asking others to treat her with respect, look past her appearance and value her inner characteristics. For members of Ofsted to claim ‘the hijab can be interrupted as the sexualisation of young girls’ is outrageous and a clear reflection of their ignorance.

    If Ofsted start singling out young Muslim girls, they are not only sending the message that these girls do not belong but are also teaching other students that it is ok to treat them differently and not accept them.

    The school environment has a substantial influence on the development of our future society and should be a safe place where all children are given the opportunity to flourish. Banning the hijab from schools would only teach the next generation that it is ok to be intolerant and disrespectful towards people who share different views. Which will cause irreparable isolation and resentment.

    We live in a multicultural society and have rights regardless of being from the ethnic minority especially Muslim for my girls it is their identity a fashion statement freedom of choice and never forced upon them.

    Everyone’s religious beliefs should be respected and valued I feel Ofsted are discriminating against a small minority of Muslims extremely bias will they ban the turban next and I hope this helps put a stop towards this ideology of discriminating against Muslims.

  3. The Claystone think-tank has found that the schools’ regulator Ofsted is targeting Muslim schools through the use of “no-notice inspections” in order to impose so-called “British values” on them.

    In a recent report titled “Losing Faith in Ofsted,” the think-tank said that this was creating a climate of fear, intimidation and discrimination.

    Over the last few years there has been a concerted effort by Ofsted to ensure that “British values” are actively promoted in schools. Through the use of no-notice inspections, these values are being imposed on schools across the country. Where schools are deemed to not be implementing these values, they can be closed down.

    Report author Dr Umer Sidique said: “Our exclusive findings show that faith schools are being disproportionately targeted by these no-notice inspections. Within this cohort of faith schools, Muslim faith schools in particular, have borne the brunt of these inspections. This has created a climate of fear, intimidation and a sense of discrimination.”

    Dr Sidique added: “Recent comments by the chief inspector of schools in England, Amanda Spielman, where she suggested that religious fundamentalists wanted to ‘indoctrinate impressionable minds,’ were both alarming and largely unfounded. Such sensationalist comments must raise concerns that this targeting of faith schools may well be ideologically driven…

    “Where schools are performing poorly then clearly this needs to be reversed. But this sense of fear around projecting a particular, legitimate, religious identity cannot be tolerated and Ofsted has been directly implicated in cultivating this climate. We urgently call for a government rethink of current policy, in particular with a view to shifting away from this very narrow interpretation of ‘values’ to a broader shared collective identity.”

    Many in the Muslim community feel that Ofsted has targeted Muslim children over the past few years. Several high-performing schools in Birmingham were put in Special Measures by Ofsted and Muslim educationalists were forced out of their jobs following the “Trojan Horse” affair, which was later largely discredited.

    The former head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw, criticised the wearing of the veil in schools and the current chief, Amanda Spielman, has said that Muslim girls will be questioned by inspectors about why they wear the hijab.

    In February, Spielman said in a speech that religious fundamentalists wanted to “actively pervert the purpose of education … and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology”.

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