ALLOWING young girls to wear a hijab reflects a desire to provide a “flourishing, diverse environment for all our children”, the chair of governors at a C of E primary school in Birmingham said this week.
“The Christian ethos has meant that we have sought to provide a secure place for learning for children of all cultural and religious backgrounds,” the Revd Dr Richard Sudworth, the Priest-in-Charge of Christ Church, Sparkbrook, said on Wednesday. He also chairs the governors at Christ Church C of E Primary School.
He spoke after a survey of 800 primary-school websites by The Sunday Times found that one fifth, including C of E schools, listed the hijab as part of the uniform. In Birmingham, 46 per cent of 72 primary schools surveyed included the hijab in their written online uniform policy, as did 36 per cent of those surveyed in Luton and 34 per cent of those surveyed in Tower Hamlets. In other areas with large Muslim communities the figures were lower. In six of the eleven areas surveyed, some C of E primary schools also allowed the hijab, according to policies online. Most schools listed it as an optional item. In total, there are 17,000 primary schools in England and it is not clear how the newspaper chose which ones to survey.
The hijab is not traditionally worn until puberty.
Gina Khan, a Muslim from Birmingham who campaigns for gender equality, told the newspaper: “Schools are allowing it because they are afraid of being called Islamophobic, and they have been told that this is a religious garment, but they need to support Muslim girls to have free choices, not to be set apart from other children.”
Last month, Transport for London dropped a children’s road-safety campaign that showed a Muslim child of nursery age wearing the hijab, after Ms Khan criticised it for “sexualising a four-year-old girl”.
The Bishop of Bradford, Dr Toby Howarth, told the newspaper that young girls often wanted to “look like their mums”, and that the inclusion of the hijab was appropriate. “The British policy is not to make too big a deal of it, but simply to say ‘You have to wear the right colour’,” he said. “This is a matter of religious identity, not sexualisation.”
The only C of E school in Luton, Wenlock Junior C of E school, allows “headware for cultural observance only”. The interfaith adviser for the diocese of St Albans, the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, said: “Hijab is culturally more about religious identity than sexualisation, particularly when it comes to school uniform and young girls. There are many other types of religious dress that can affect a uniform, such as turbans for Sikh boys or kippah for Jewish boys. But the press and those in authority only get hyped up about what Muslim girls wear. Is this yet another story among so many others that are now separating Muslims out for vilification?”
The Director of Education for the diocese of Birmingham, Sarah Smith, said on Tuesday: “The hijab is not part of any school’s compulsory uniform for primary aged girls, but is permitted by some schools in accordance with the wishes of the parents.
“Some primary schools do not allow the wearing of the hijab, and we support their right to set that as their uniform policy also. We believe that a good school-uniform policy is one that supports the ethos of the school and the wishes of the parents; consequently, we do not seek to ban the hijab, but do not see it as a fundamental part of a school uniform.
“We wish to provide an educational environment which recognises the cultural and religious context of the school community, and where pupils and families are treated hospitably and sensitively.”
At Christ Church, 86 per cent of pupils are Muslim. Dr Sudworth said that only about a quarter of Muslim girls took up the option to wear the hijab, “reflecting the fact that our pupils come from a range of different cultural backgrounds, as well as representing different perspectives within Islam on the question of the hijab. For our school families, as the Bishop of Bradford has noted, the hijab is an item of clothing that has religious and cultural resonances for identity and has nothing to do with the supposed early sexualisation of the children.”
He said: “The uniform option that enables girls to wear a hijab is just one option among several that reflects the wishes of the school governing body to provide a flourishing, diverse environment for all our children.”