Gender, tradition, education: responses

24 December 2009 by Jennifer

My post the other week on Mainstream school, girls in immigrant &/or religious families, “British Values” etc was the catalyst for a few discussions and comments on various lists. Here I pick up some of the threads.

First of all, I’ve now had a reply from Alan Simpson to my questions about the evidence base and who would know more. Here’s what he said:

Thanks for coming back to me. This isn’t something I have had data on. It comes only out of the community discussions I have had in Nottingham over the last 20 odd years. The international picture, however, is something that you might be able to take up with the Department for International Development or some of the aid NGOs. They have far greater first hand experience of the reluctances they encounter, in relation to girls’ access to education.

So, a piece of string there, pulling on which may or may not lead to something interesting :-)

Meanwhile, I also wanted to include some of the discussion the rest of us had in the meantime, from our various different perspectives. All the commentators quoted here are from EHE communities. Most of these quotes are from email lists – I got permission to copy them here. There are a few more comments on the original post too.


About “Families with a belief that girls only need to know how to raise children and keep house”, Dorothy says:

You invite comments on the above imagined scenario your MP mentioned.

I’ve never heard of it in the HE community and I’m an evangelical Christian.

Thing is, even if there *were* Christian girls being prepared *solely* for a role as wife and mother, then they would also have to be prepared for the role of future home educator (of both daughters and sons) and logically, they would need a sufficiently broad education themselves in order to do that.

However, every HE’ing Christian parent I’ve ever met (even the most traditional ones) are very aware that not all women are called to marry. Some may be called into the mission field for eg, in a medical capacity, so girls are generally prepared for as many eventualities in life as boys.

On the same point, another Mum adds:

I know we’re told that families say this, but I’ve never heard a parent either say it or demonstrate it. However, the head master of my old school in London used to say that girls didn’t need educating because we would become wives and mothers.


Incidentally, around here it is the immigrant families who seem keen for their children, girls just as much as boys, to have a good education. And they are the ones who are prepared to spend a lot of money on it.

A couple of people told me that some Gypsy / Roma / Traveller communities (a.k.a. GRT) tend to educate girls very differently from boys. Tania has spoken to a lot of Local Authority people:

you may find that the comment about girls and childcare is about the GRT community.

I have had this said to me by 2 LAs.

However one of them said that culturally there is no emphasis on reading and writing but the girls get a good grounding in their culture (childcare etc) and the boys often go into their father’s business. Hence it can be said they are receiving an education which prepares them for life in their own community.

(That last point is relevant in law: see the judgement quoted below.)

Tania continues:

the only religious group mentioned as a ‘problem’ for LA’s has been the ultra orthodox Jewish one in Manchester and London and the LA simply CANNOT get in there!

(i.e. “problem” in this context means “declines the LAs’ interference and the LA staff don’t like it”.)

The law

Imran Shah, a home educating Dad, comments on the legal position:

I think there is provision within the 1996 Education Act and the 1989 Children Act to deal with HE that is severely restrictive in the way that Mr Simpson describes.

The 1989 CA is a much fairer piece of legislation than the [currently proposed] CSF Bill since there are many checks and balances to prevent LA overstepping their powers. The CSF Bill in contrast has no appeal process, and gives the LA the powers of judge and jury. The 1996 Education Act also gives parents the right to appeal, and thus a judge can determine the merits of an individual case, in answer to the question whether the education provided is suitable to the age, aptitude and ability of the child. If a girl is only being taught to cook and clean, then I would argue that that education is not suitable, since it forecloses her options later on in life.

That last phrase is an allusion to a judgement which now forms part of case law about “suitable education”. The case was R v Secretary of State for Education and Science, ex parte Talmud Torah Machzikei Hadass School Trust (1985) (Times, 12 April 1985). Mr Justice Woolf held that:

education is ‘suitable’ if it primarily equips a child for life within the community of which he is a member, rather than the way of life in the country as a whole, as long as it does not foreclose the child’s options in later years to adopt some other form of life if he wishes to do so.

The hard questions

A Christian Mum asks some of the difficult questions:

I have lived with fundamentalist Islamic neighbours. His daughters were only allowed to leave the house with him. Literally could not leave the house without their father leading them down the street. They went to a private Islamic all girls’ school, where no one ever sat GCSEs.

In our two yrs as neighbours, I was never permitted to speak to them – since I was a Christian and a woman.

His daughters were covered head to toe, inc face, all the time I ever saw them in public. They were a family, living life as it mattered to them, doing what they thought was right. They were good, kind, considerate and helpful neighbours, but wanted to live their own life in their own way.

Who am I to tell them they were wrong?

Is “being British” more important than the right of parents to bring up their dc [dear children] as they wish?

And if “being British” is the more important, where do the lines get drawn? How does the state ensure that children are “British” first, and children of their parents second?

Or if parental rights are more important, then where do children’s rights come in?

(Alert readers will of course have spotted that the family in that story weren’t home edders.)

Proportionality and evidence

Several commentators picked up the theme of proportionality and evidence. Dorothy comments:

Sometimes, such scenarios as the one your MP seems concerned about are just the figment of a prejudiced imagination. Sometimes, they are based on one or two extreme situations. One or two extreme situations however, is not a good enough justification for a new law which would affect tens of thousands.

Renegade Parent has a point:

The problems they can “see” are mistaken stereotypes (and therefore too politically incorrect for politicians and civil servants to talk about honestly), unhelpfully fuelled by misperceptions of risk and risk mitigation.

Sue sums it up:

The key factor here, as you point out, is evidence. If there is evidence that some people exercising their liberty significantly interferes with the right of others to exercise theirs, and the outcomes for the majority are clearly damaging, then legislation should be considered. Otherwise government should mind its own business.

Imran puts education in context along with other ethical questions of difference and risk management:

There may be a small number of households who keep girls at home in order to limit their chances by teaching them very restrictive gender roles. The number of HErs who do that would be tiny. If I think the contact that I have had with Pakistanis in Bradford and Bengalis in Newham, that sort of restrictive education does go on, but most of it goes on with families who send their children to school. It is only a tiny number of Muslims (or of any other community) who HE their children, and I think that it would be only a tiny number of those that would educate their children this way.

You could draw an analogy with the tiny number of Muslims who are actively involved in terrorist activity. There are many more who are sympathetic, but don’t do anything, and I think that there are many more who are opposed to British policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan but do not agree that terrorist assaults are the answer. Would Mr Simpson advocate annual checks on Muslim households to ensure that no subversive activity is being engaged in? I think not.

Similarly, a lot of child sexual abuse goes on in middle class households, as it does throughout all groups. However, child sexual abuse in middle class households does not come to the attention of social services. It goes on, and is hidden, with those children suffering. Is Mr Simpson advocating annual inspections of all middle class households so that not even one child suffers? I think not.

Then there is the issue of prejudice and myth. Show me the figures. How much of this really is a problem in the HE community, and how much of it is myth and prejudice disguised as liberal concern? (Forgive my covert invective).

For hot housing my arguments are the same: most hot housing takes place with schooled kids; hot housing is not a crime; never have I heard any pronouncement from the Government that they wish to prevent families from hot-housing their children. Would that mean that Labour MP’s would not be allowed to send Junior to private school?

You may also ask Mr Simpson if his argument extends to the traveller community? How does he propose that they be brought into the mainstream fold? I doubt that he does. I am sure he would agree that the true test of a democracy is not how much it bends to the will of the majority, but by how well it protects the rights and freedoms of its minorities.

Social cohesion

Several people also commented on the question of community cohesion. Sue again:

I think you are absolutely right about the cultural issues. Except that I think ‘Britishness’ has been hijacked as a quality that will appeal to voters. There appears to be a simplistic idea going round (and I haven’t figured out where it comes from) that cultural cohesion can be achieved by forcing us to be culturally cohesive. i.e. that we all behave in the way that government thinks we should behave.

Imran continues:

With regards to combating Islamic extremism, surely Mr Simpson is aware that the best way of doing that is for the UK government to stop spending money and sending its young (mostly working class men) to foreign lands to kill Muslims? That awareness must have at least in part informed his votes against the invasion of Iraq, and for an inquiry into that atrocity.

Finally when it comes to class issues … he may not be aware that HE is the only educational approach where the working class children do as well as, or better than middle class children. How’s that for social cohesion, eh?

Here, have an index…
Gender, tradition, education: responses
The law
The hard questions
Proportionality and evidence
Social cohesion

Appreciation, criticism & new ideas all welcome...

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