Wednesday 27 January 2016

"Well Huw, it's certainly a provocative step"

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).

She continued:
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'.


  1. She shouldn't be giving her (predictable) opinions. But equally we shouldn't be falling for Cameron's game.

    Along with lots of other stray comments that have been thrown out recently (latest being "a bunch of migrants") it's all about Cameron positioning himself ahead of the referendum to appear tough on migration and Muslims - when the reality is he's a fan of migration and Islam, which he claims is a religion of peace.

    As for Sir Michael he's been in the job for several years. Why has he only suddenly noticed this problem?...which I doubt is a v. significant one in reality. Most non-Muslims in any case don't really distinguish between the niqab and other forms of headdress.

    If we had a seriously secular government they would ensure there was one uniform for all pupils. But what is taught is far more important - and this government has sold the pass on that with its Islamic free schools, provided at the expense of the taxpayer.

  2. Episode not available on iPlayer yet (or that's the message I get), so I can't watch, and will reserve judgment on whether or not Edwards was simply doing the standard newsreader's dramatic emphasis, or if he was approaching Stage Performer Maitlis drama territory. But did Huw ask if there was any evidence or what it was?

    (not that she's supposed to have one, what with being a BBC reporter 'n' all).

    On the contrary: She's a titled editor, so her job is having an (informed? knowledgeable? experienced?) opinion, and expressing it regularly in order for the BBC audience to understand the issues better. It has been a very convenient dodge of the impartiality remit, and they've been getting away with it for years.

    If Msx Jeffreys says (in one of the tweets) that schools should be judged on results, isn't that what Sir Michael says Ofsted is doing when he says judgments will be made based on evidence that it affects learning? Or is it "judged on results we like"?

    Definite bias, barely disguised as "explaining the Muslim community's view, who are already facing discrimination and oppression".

    The BBC News online article has no mention of any evidence at all, and presents it as a case of Wilshaw sending out his inspectors to find it in the first place. There is also a quote from some academic saying that there is no evidence at all. To be fair the Telegraph piece on the story is essentially a lengthier version of the same article. So it does appear to be a crackdown in search of an offense.

    Those wanting to ban the veil from schools should just show the evidence that normalizing it can lead to radicalization and be done with it. There has yet to be a victory won with a "the Veil is gender discrimination" argument. Every time it comes up, the BBC or similar is there with a couple of women to say how empowering it is, personal choice of expressing a protected religious belief, etc.

    1. I don't think that's quite right. The BBC isn't a fan of the niqab or the burka - which is why you will never see a BBC presenter wearing one. I think there concern is - as with criminal behaviour by the Muslim migrants who have entered Europe - is to keep a lid on things, so that the overall left-liberal project is not derailed. So went it comes to this sort of issue I think they play it as something peripheral, perhaps not to be encouraged but not indicative that Islam's values are in complete confrontation with those of liberal democracy. If they can make the Tories sound "mean to migrants" - well, all the better (but that is what Cameron wants of course, to be labelled that way in this case).

      Both the BBC and Cameron are deliberately avoiding any rational analysis of what it is that Islam teaches and what its followers are supposed to believe and act upon.

    2. I was not implying that the BBC is a fan of the niqab. They are indirectly propagandists for it, though, whenever they reflexively defend the indefensible in their never-ending quest to fight against imaginary racism. The Beeboids would sooner tolerate rape and mutilation of young girls than give a single white racist the satisfaction of being right about anything. If white van man said the sky is blue, the BBC would be bending over backwards to show that it's actually green and only racists interpret it as blue.

    3. The key for the BBC I think is that they are prepared to describe abuse of women and girls as aberrant in relation to Islam, but cannot - for ideological reasons - accept that it is intimately connected to the mainstream teachings of Islam. This is why they give so much exposure to those rare examples of people who claim to follow Islam but who also claim it is perfectly in harmony with liberal democracy.

  3. Gotta love this talk of 'provocation' and the 'politics of fear'. Surely one of the main reasons women, particularly those born in this country, wear the burqa/niqab is to provoke.

    1. Not sure to many are party to the fashion statement.

      Leading one to ponder just who is making them 'targets' in ways perhaps more noticeable that red doors or wristbands.


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