On last night's BBC News at Ten on BBC One, Huw Edwards wore a serious look on his face around the 24 minute mark as he began introducing the next story. His eyebrows began arching and a surprised tone soon entered his voice (at the words "or even classed as inadequate"):
Now, schools in England have been warned that they could be marked down by inspectors or even classed as inadequate if it's judged that face veils worn by teachers or pupils hinder the learning process. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, says he's concerned that some headteachers are coming under pressure to relax the rules on wearing the nijab. Let's talk to our Education Editor, Branwen Jeffreys, who's with me. Branwen, why has Sir Michael decided to toughen his approach in this way?
If you felt that Huw was expressing, on the BBC's behalf, a measure of disapproval for Sir Michael's warnings there, with those arched eyebrows and incredulous vocal inflections, then BBC Education Editor Branwen Jeffreys pretty much removed all doubt by her immediate reply to his question about Sir Michael's 'toughened' approach:
Well Huw, it's certainly a provocative step.
Yes, Sir Michael appears to have gone beyond 'controversial' for the BBC here to something even worse: "provocative".
Well, that's her opinion! (not that she's supposed to have one, what with being a BBC reporter 'n' all).
Ofsted said it's taking it because schools have come under pressure to change their uniform policies. Every school in England can decide what its pupils should wear and many that have a majority or many Muslim pupils allow girls to cover their hair with a hijab but don't allow a niqab - the face covering Sir Michael is objecting too. He says he wants to take a stand against' the inappropriate use of the veil', as he describes it. He says it can in some circumstances get in the way of teaching and learning. But Muslim organisations have already said that he's resorting to...'the politics of fear' was one expression used, And, more strikingly, all the teaching unions are united in their opposition to this. They've described it as an 'extreme and unhelpful move' and said that it could alienate some pupils and parents, and they're asking, 'Where is the evidence that Ofsted has that this can really get in the way of learning?'
And that was that.
She also went onto Twitter to post three tweets on the subject - two from the 'anti-Sir Michael' side, none from the 'pro-Sir Michael'-side:
Branwen's blog pursues many of the same paths.
She writes that Sir Michael "is massively raising the stakes", though she re-casts her own provocative assertion that his move is "provocative" by writing that other people will see it as provocative ("It...will also be seen as provocative") - thus distancing herself somewhat from her earlier bold assertion.
Her closing section plays down the scale of the problem in its first two paragraphs, before raising a metaphorical eyebrow at the same thing that seemed to 'surprise' Huw Edwards. Only in the final sentence does she 'balance' things with a nod towards the other side of the argument:
Only a handful of state funded schools are thought to allow the wearing of the niqab, mainly in their sixth form.
There is no current evidence of it impeding the pupils in achieving excellence.
For a school to be rated as failing purely on the grounds of the niqab being allowed seems for the moment improbable.
But any head teacher wanting to maintain a very inclusive uniform policy will now be able to point to Ofsted and the Department for Education in backing up their policy.
I'm not sure that any of this - whether on TV, on Twitter or on the BBC website - can truly be said to be 'impartial BBC broadcasting'.