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'Nazi' stigma of uniforms lessens in face of burkas

The suspension of two Muslim girls for wearing burkas to school in Bonn has brought renewed calls for the introduction of uniforms in German schools.

Unlike in Britain, uniforms are frowned upon by much of the population because they recall the brown shirts of the Hitler Youth or the blue shirts and blouses worn by teenagers in communist parades in East Germany.

Brigitte Zypries, minister for judicial affairs, said uniforms would "lessen the social and economic differences between pupils, as well as dispensing with burkas". Federal minister for education Annette Schavan agreed in principle but thought schools should decide for themselves.

But Josef Kraus, president of Germany's Teachers Association, said forcing pupils to wear uniforms would deprive them of their legal and civil rights.

He said the notion that uniforms could prevent religious or social discrimination was "terribly naive".

An educational survey carried out in a Hamburg secondary modern where pupils started wearing school uniforms five years ago found that manners and concentration had improved, bullying had diminished and pupils generally felt a lot safer. Teacher Karin Brose said: "The pupils had opted to wear the uniform themselves. I think that's the key to its success."

Mr Kraus would rather see schools promoting community spirit and placing less emphasis on "outward signs of corporate identity". But he also said parents of pupils wearing burkas - veils which obscure the face - in open defiance of school regulations should face fines or cuts in social benefits. "After all, such pupils cannot be identified," he said, "which threatens other pupils' safety, too."

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