Schools across Britain warned not to ban hairstyles for minority pupils | Schools

Schools are being warned not to penalize or exclude students for wearing their hair in natural Afro styles, as well as braids, cornrows and plaits, in new guidelines meant to prevent hair discrimination.

The UK equality watchdog said school uniforms and appearance policies that ban certain hairstyles without allowing exceptions on racial and religious grounds are likely to be illegal.

It therefore urges schools to review their existing policies and practices to ensure they comply with the Equality Act 2010.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said girls and boys with Afro-textured hair or hairstyles were disproportionately affected by discrimination and warned it could have serious consequences and sustainable for them and their families.

Jackie Killeen, the EHRC’s chief regulator, said: We want to put an end to pupils being unfairly singled out for appearing in schools. Every child deserves to be celebrated for who they are and to thrive in school without having to worry about changing their appearance to fit a potentially discriminatory policy.

According to the EHRC, discrimination ranges from describing a person’s hairstyle as inappropriate or exotic, to bullying and banning certain hairstyles. Many affected children complain that their schools do not understand afro hair and the care it needs.

The new EHRC guidelines, which are non-statutory and apply to schools in England, Scotland and Wales, state: “Discrimination against pupils in relation to or because of their hair can have a negative effect on students’ mental health and well-being.

“Indirect discrimination can occur when a school implements a seemingly neutral policy or practice that disadvantages students who share a protected characteristic (eg, race) relative to students who do not share that characteristic.

“Such policies are likely to be indirectly discriminatory unless the school can demonstrate that the policy is objectively justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”

The EHRC has previously funded legal actions in cases of alleged hair discrimination. In 2020 Ruby Williams won £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement from Urswick School in Hackney, east London, after being repeatedly sent home because of her hair afro. The school declines all responsibility.

The commission also backed the case of Chikayzea Flanders who was told on his first day at his Fulham boys’ school in west London in 2017 that his dreadlocks hair, which he wore tied back, breached the policy of school uniform and appearance and was notified to have it cut or face suspension. Her mother argued that her dreadlocks were a core tenet of her Rastafarian beliefs and should therefore be exempt from the policy.

The issue continues to be a problem in schools. The EHRC said the Equality Advice and Support Service, which provides free advice on equality law, has received 50 calls reporting potential cases of hair discrimination since 2018, but in many more cases, parents do not report the discrimination or take legal action.

L’myah Sherae, founder and chief co-ordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Racial Equality in Education, which supported the development of the new direction, said: ‘We want black children in the UK to know that they can be genuinely proud of their identity, without being penalized for it.

“Schools should be safe and supportive environments for all students, and racial equality in education should be a priority for all teachers.”

Michelle de Leon, Founder and CEO of World Afro Day, added: “We hope these resources will be an effective tool in clarifying the law on equality for teachers and helping to change the prejudice against afro hair. which has taken root in certain parts of the education system. .”

Education lawyer Theresa Kerr of Winckworth Sherwood, said: ‘These advice from the EHRC is a welcome reminder to schools that uniform policies, including hairstyle policies, can be indirectly discriminatory and therefore illegal.

“In light of these new guidelines, we recommend that principals review their policies and practices to ensure that no student is disadvantaged because of race, religion or any other protected characteristic. “

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: ‘Discrimination has no place in our schools or in society and it is illegal to discriminate against pupils because of their race.

“We provided guidance to schools last year to help them adhere to the Equality Act regarding student appearance, including that leaders should be sensitive to the needs of different cultures, races and religions. and act reasonably to meet those needs.”

David R. Brewer