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Council boss is related to girl in hijab school row

Photo: BPM.

It has been revealed that a Council equalities boss who intervened in a debate about a Catholic school banning a Muslim girl from wearing a hijab is related to the child.

St Clare’s School in Handsworth, Birmingham had asked the child’s parents to respect their strict uniform policy, which includes no headwear or scarves.

The stance of the school sparked a row among community leaders after the young girl’s father called on council officials to intervene.

Waseem Zaffar, Birmingham Council’s Labour cabinet member for equalities, revealed last week he had met with the head teacher and told her the ban was against the Equalities Act.

St Clare’s School in Handsworth, Birmingham had asked the child’s parents to respect their strict uniform policy, which includes no headwear or scarves. Credit: BPM.

Despite his involvement the councillor failed to reveal publicly that he is related to the girl and her family.

Birmingham City Council says Zaffar did inform it of the link and had also told the school.

Councillor Zaffar issued a statement via the council press office which read:

“I had more than one child’s parent contact me about this issue affecting their children and one of the children is related to me. I have been very open and transparent with council colleagues and officers as well as the school about this from the first moment it was raised with me.”

– Councillor Zaffar.
The school's uniform policy on its website specifies "hats or scarves are not allowed to be worn in school" Credit: PA.

But Jon Hunt, Leader of the Lib Dems, said:

“This whole affair is a terrible muddle, as cabinet member for equalities Zaffar holds serious responsibilities, especially in the light of the Trojan Horse scandal in schools. In this instance he has blundered into a situation, without thinking through his conflicting roles. I am very surprised that he went on to visit the school after raising the matter with council officers, who could have handled the situation professionally and appropriately.”

– Jon Hunt, Leader of the Lib Dems
The row began on Facebook when a relative of the girl criticised the headscarf ban. Credit: PA

The row began on Facebook when a relative of the girl criticised the headscarf ban, saying she had been given “detention from school cuz she was wearing a scarf. It’s a religious matter and I would like to request to our councillors and MPs to take notice on this serious issue.”

The relative had copied in the message to an MP and councillors, including Waseem Zaffar. Mr Zaffar later posted on Facebook:

“I met the headteacher yesterday to discuss this clearly outlining to her that this policy contravenes the equalities act. Senior education officers from Birmingham City Council will also discuss this matter with the concerned school early next week what the head and governors discuss their next action. I’m insisting this matter is addressed (as soon as possible) with a change of policy.”

– Facebook Post.
Brigid Jones, Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Schools. Credit: BPM.

The relationship between Mr Zaffar and the relatives of the girl was not made public on the posts.

Women’s rights campaigner Gina Khan had previously attacked Coun Zaffar’s comments, stating: "Hijab isn’t compulsory for a child in Islam, but patriarchal biraadari power used to contol Muslim school girls.”

Birmingham City Council said it had been aware of the family link. Brigid Jones, Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Schools, said:

“Before contacting the school in his capacity as a local ward member, Coun Zaffar sought advice from myself and senior officers about him approaching the headteacher in relation to the allegations about one of the children affected by the uniform policy. At this time, he also made it very clear the pupil was one of his relatives. After that he then approached the head, and has advised me that he explained he was speaking in his local councillor capacity rather than as a Cabinet Member and again made it clear he was related to the pupil.”

– Brigid Jones, Cabinet Member for Children, families and schools.