Children with Afro-textured hair should not be prevented from wearing natural hairstyles at school, new guidance from Britain’s human-rights watchdog says. School bans on hairstyles such as braids and cornrows are likely to be unlawful if they do not give exemptions on racial grounds, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says.
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The guidance will not affect government policy but will help stop school hair-based discrimination.
Ministers say they have issued advice.
Campaigners have long been calling for schools and workplaces to address hair-based discrimination, which can make children feel ostracised or uncomfortable in their skin.
The EHRC’s guidance says schools should be “alert to the potential for indirect discrimination” when setting rules on hair and that any such regulations must be “proportionate and justified”.
It adds that while schools are entitled to impose reasonable dress codes, they must do so in a way that does not discriminate against any particular group.
Schools minister Nick Gibb said the government had issued guidance to schools in 2016, which clarified that “there should be no discrimination against Afro-Caribbean pupils on the grounds of their hairstyle”.
“We have been very clear that schools can set uniform policies, but these must be fair and must not discriminate against any group of pupils,” he added.
The EHRC’s guidance comes after several high-profile cases in which children have been banned from school or sent home for wearing Afro-textured hairstyles.
In September, a nine-year-old girl in south London was told she could not start school unless she changed her hairstyle. The following month, a six-year-old boy in Liverpool was told he could not have his dreadlocks cut shorter because they violated school rules.
In December, the UN’s human rights agency urged Britain to do more to tackle discrimination against people with Afro-textured hair.
The EHRC has received numerous complaints about hair-based discrimination in schools, and its research suggests that such bias is widespread.
“Schools should be places where everyone feels welcome, respected and able to achieve their best,” said EHRC chair David Isaac.
“This new guidance will help schools make sure their policies on uniforms and appearance do not discriminate against children from certain racial groups and ensure that all children can take part fully in school life.”
Sarah Jackson of the campaign group Hair Justice said the EHRC’s guidance was “a step in the right direction”.
“We know that hair-based discrimination is a reality for many Black children and young people in Britain today,” she said.
“This kind of discrimination can cause immense distress and lead to feelings of shame, anxiety and low self-esteem.”
She added that the government needed to do more to ensure schools complied with its 2016 guidance on hair-based discrimination.
“The government must urgently review the implementation of its guidance and introduce stronger measures to address this pervasive form of racial discrimination,” she said.
What do you think of the EHRC’s guidance? Are you affected by hair-based discrimination?