Birmingham councillor resigns over pupil-headscarf row

3rd March 2017 at 11:26
Councillor resigns after criticising a Catholic primary's decision to prevent a four-year-old girl from wearing an Islamic headscarf

A council equality chief who criticised a Catholic primary school's decision to prevent a four-year-old girl from wearing an Islamic headscarf has stepped down from his post.

Waseem Zaffar, Birmingham City Council's cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, has resigned from the role and asked the authority to set up a "review into all current and historical speculation against me".

The Labour councillor was accused of undermining community cohesion in January, after he claimed that a Birmingham school had breached the Equality Act, following a complaint from a pupil's family.

In a comment posted on Facebook on 21 January, Councillor Zaffar wrote: "I'm insisting this matter is addressed asap with a change of policy.

"Senior education officers from Birmingham City Council will also discuss this matter with the concerned school early next week, while the head and governors discuss their next action."

'Community cohesion'

The city council later said it was supporting the primary school in the Handsworth area to ensure its policies – which do not allow hats or head coverings – are appropriate.

Birmingham's Conservative group has now called on the Labour-run local authority to show public support urgently for the school and the right of all schools to set their own uniform policies.

Councillor Ewan Mackey, Birmingham's shadow cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality, said: "That the cabinet member responsible for equality and community cohesion should have displayed such a failure to understand the equalities legislation is deeply concerning, and his actions have severely undermined the cohesion he is tasked with promoting."

Calling for the council to publish all correspondence between councillors and officers relating to the row, Mr Mackey added: "If there is to be an investigation the terms of reference should be published so that everything is open and transparent."

'Grossly unfair'

Tory councillor Matt Bennett, the shadow cabinet member for schools, claimed that trust between the authority and schools remained "fragile" following the so-called Trojan Horse allegations.

Mr Bennett said: "The response of the city council to date has been more concerned with protecting the reputation of a councillor who has been shown to have been in the wrong."

Mr Zaffar stepped down a day after it was reported that government integration tsar Dame Louise Casey had written to the council claiming that his actions towards the school had been "grossly unfair and undue".

He said in a statement: "Birmingham is my city and I feel privileged to have served as a cabinet member on my council.

"But after careful consideration and in light of continued media and social media speculation, I have discussed the situation with the leader of the council and I have decided I will step aside from my cabinet role with immediate effect."

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