Monday, December 11

Birmingham schools reassured of right to ban hijab after row over four years old



Birmingham schools reassured of right to ban hijab after row Birmingham City Council is to reassure schools that they are free to ban pupils from wearing Islamic headscarves, after its equalities chief was criticised for trying to force a headteacher to allow a four-year-old to wear the hijab.

John Clancy, the Labour leader of the council, said Waseem Zaffar, his cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, had referred himself to an independent standards committee after the government’s integration tsar said she was very concerned about his behaviour.

Mr Zaffar wrote on Facebook that he had met with the headteacher of a local primary school after a four-year-old girl, who it later transpired was a relative, was prevented from wearing a headscarf and told to wear shorts during PE.

He said: I’m insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy.” A friend of the councillor replied, saying that requiring shorts to be worn for PE was equivalent to “forcing a girl to undress.

Dame Louise Casey, the government’s integration tsar, wrote to Mr Clancy, warning that Mr Zaffar’s grossly unfair and undue actions suggested that the council had failed to learn the lessons of the Trojan Horse scandal, when aggressive school governors in the city tried to impose a hardline Islamic ethos on head teachers.

She said she was very concerned … about the wisdom and legitimacy of councillor Zaffar using his influence in this misguided way.

In a private letter to Dame Louise, seen by the Telegraph, Mr Clancy said that the council will be issuing further guidance on uniform policy to all schools, reiterating guidance from ministers that states that head teachers have the right to prevent children wearing the hijab, to promote community cohesion.

The council leader said Mr Zaffar now accepts he may have used the wrong language. He added: Cllr Zaffar has now asked that his actions in this matter are independently reviewed and if there are any lessons to be learned he will take them on board.

Mr Clancy said in the letter that the council had offered “immediate support” to St Clare’s Catholic Primary School, after the row came to light, but the council yesterday refused to put out a statement backing the headteacher or confirming Mr Clancy’s statements in his letter.

A government source said: The obvious weakness of their response shows they are failing to grip the situation. We would like to see them make a robust public response. If their support for the school is as strong as they say it is, they should say so in public.

Mr Zaffar did not return requests for comment.