'Dark ages' ban on Muslim scarf

13th December 2002 at 00:00
Angry father demands an apology as school tries to stop girls wearing hijab over Ramadan, reports George Wright

A SCHOOL that ordered Muslim girls to remove religious headscarves has been forced to reconsider its "dark ages" uniform policy.

Staff at Beechview junior school in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, told three girls, aged 10 and 11, that hijabs were against the rules, despite government guidelines that no pupil should be barred from wearing religious headwear.

The school backed down last week following the intervention by the county council and the threat of legal action by Muslim campaigners.

Askorali Rahman, whose 11-year-old daughter Shamimah was one of the three girls involved, said he was glad the matter had been resolved, but still felt angry that he had not received an apology from headteacher Barbara Smith.

Mr Rahman said: "My daughter was very upset when the school said she and her friends could not wear the hijab. When I went to see the headteacher to sort the matter out I was told it would be decided by the governors at their next meeting.

"I pleaded for it to be dealt with quickly, because Ramadan was just starting, but I was told I would just have to wait. I felt my concerns were being brushed aside."

The school finally gave way after Haji Khalil, of the Muslim Parents'

Association, contacted Buckinghamshire council and warned them of possible legal action against the school.

Mr Khalil said: "This sort of attitude is going back to the dark ages. The deputy head told me that the hijabs had to be considered by the board of governors for three reasons: because they contravened uniform policy, because they might be considered a fashion symbol, and because they might be a health hazard.

"Although the school saw sense in the end and changed its mind, I think it has caused a great deal of concern in the Muslim community."

Mrs Smith declined to comment about the headscarves row to The TES.

But Mike Harrison, Buckinghamshire education authority's principal schools'

adviser in High Wycombe, said staff had been surprised when the girls began wearing the hijabs.

He said: "This was an unfortunate misunderstanding and the head acted very quickly to rectify the issue. The girls, in Year 6, had been at the school for three years and had never made any requests to wear their headgear. When they suddenly started wearing the hijabs, the head felt that was the sort of thing that needed to be requested properly by parents."

Mr Harrison said that once the education officers were told of the row, they stepped in and advised the school that the wearing of hijabs should not be referred to the governors.

Department for Education and Skills guidelines state that schools are allowed to set their own uniform policies, but they are expected to accommodate the needs of different cultures, races and religions.

This includes, for example, allowing Muslim girls to wear appropriate dress and Sikh boys to wear traditional turbans.

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