Pupils should not be ‘unfairly singled out’ at school because of their afro hair

Styles such as afros, braids, cornrows, plaits, locks and head coverings should not be singled out

Pupils should not be “unfairly singled out” at school because they have afro hair, the equalities watchdog has said.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said policies which ban certain hairstyles without making exceptions on racial grounds “are likely to be unlawful”.

This includes styles such as afros, braids, cornrows, plaits, locks and head coverings.

The watchdog has issued new guidance to help schools in England, Scotland and Wales ensure their policies on hair are not unlawfully discriminatory.

This applies to all forms of hair discrimination but focuses on race “because of the disproportionate impact upon pupils from specific racial groups”.

Jackie Killeen, chief regulator at the EHRC, said: “Discrimination based on hair can have serious and long-lasting consequences for victims and their families.

“As Britain’s equality regulator, we want to put a stop to pupils being unfairly singled out for their appearance in schools.

12-year-old Nichole Acandeh: “Everyone else is wearing their natural hair, so why can’t I?”

“That’s why, after working closely with experts and those directly affected, we are launching these practical resources to help school leaders understand the law in this area and prevent discrimination from happening.

“Every child deserves to be celebrated for who they are and to thrive in school without having to worry about changing their appearance to suit a potentially discriminatory policy.”

The guidance cites real-life examples where schools were taken to court over their policies on hair.

London schoolgirl Tiana Akoh-Arrey hopes book about her afro hair will inspire others

The policy of one school, which banned boys from wearing certain hairstyles, including cornrows, was found by a court to be indirectly discriminatory after it was challenged by a pupil.

The EHRC also cited the legal case it funded of Ruby Williams, a mixed-race pupil who was repeatedly sent home from school because of its policy that banned afro hair of excessive volume.

The watchdog secured a legally binding agreement with the school to ensure it ended the discriminatory policy and considered factors such as race and religion when determining what a ‘reasonable’ hairstyle was.

L’myah Sherae, founder and chief coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for race equality in education, said: “No child should be sent home from school for wearing their natural hair, which is why our APPG wrote to the EHRC in October 2021 to highlight the need for new, strengthened guidance.

“We want black children across the UK to know that they can be genuinely proud of their identity, not penalised for it.

“I am therefore pleased that this guidance is now being published, and I am proud to have been involved in the drafting process.”

Farouk James spoke to ITV News about his hair

Farouk James is one schoolboy who has faced trouble because of his school's attitude towards his hair.

He said "If you had hair as long as mine, it had to be above the shoulders."

"My hair is clearly longer than the shoulders, so we started fighting in I think 2017."

His mother, Bonny, said that race had been "at the forefront of this whole campaign."

"The only distraction [from schoolwork] is telling them to cut their natural hair...we're not talking about children going into school with punk rock hairstyles. We're talking about children being able to have their natural hair."

Schools should not decide how black children style their hair, Blessing Fapohunda says

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Schools take their public sector equality duty extremely seriously and want to make sure that all children and young people feel included and able to share their identity.

“NAHT therefore welcome any additional guidance from the EHRC that helps them in achieving this.”

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Discrimination has no place in our schools or society and it is unlawful to discriminate against pupils on the grounds of race.

“We provided guidance to schools last year to help them adhere to the Equality Act with regards to pupils’ appearance, including that leaders should be sensitive to the needs of different cultures, races and religions and act reasonably in accommodating these needs.”

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