UK: No automatic veil ban

The UK government decided not to put out a blanket ban on full-face veils in schools.

Veils will not be banned in schools, ministers have decided.

Guidelines issued by the Government yesterday state that heads 'may be justified' in outlawing religious dress that covers pupils' faces.

But ministers stopped short of issuing an outright ban on full-face Islamic veils, saying it was up to schools to decide uniform policy for themselves.
Headmaster's decision: Schools will still have to decide on whether to ban the full veil

The guidance led to accusations that the Government had only confused the issue and left heads 'walking a tightrope'.

It means that schools could still face legal challenges if they attempt to outlaw garments such as the niqab, which covers the entire face apart from a slit for the eyes.

Yesterday's updated guidance follows the case of a 12-year-old girl whose campaign to be allowed to wear the niqab at her Buckinghamshire school was rejected by the Law Lords after a lengthy appeal process.

A draft version of the new rules published in March suggested that schools would be allowed to outlaw certain religious dress in order to ensure proper learning, prevent bullying and maintain security on school grounds.

But an extra paragraph inserted in the revised version makes it clear there is no automatic right to ban veils.
It states that the judgment against the 12-year-old girl and two other similar cases do not imply schools can impose a blanket ban.

"Each case will always depend on the circumstances of the particular school," it says.
"So the judgments do mean that banning such religious dress will always be justified, nor that such religious dress cannot be worn in any school in England.

"It is for a school to determine what sort of uniform policy is appropriate for it."

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the guidance was a 'brave' attempt to assist schools on a sensitive issue.

But he added: "Walking this tightrope is pretty difficult.

"There is always concern schools will face legal challenges.

"We will want to see how this advice pans out on the ground.

"If bits turn out to be too tight or too loose, we will want it adjusted."

Tory MP Paul Goodman, whose Wycombe constituency includes the school challenged in court over its policy on the niqab, said the guidance had been weakened by the Human Rights Act, which provides for 'the right to education and to manifest religious beliefs'.
"This guidance looks to confuse headteachers, schools and governors," he added.

A Government spokesman said: "No guidance can stop legal challenges from happening.

"We can give advice to prevent schools ending up in court in the first place and also to minimise the risk that if a case does come to court, schools would not end up losing."
He said the message from recent court cases was that schools were justified in barring religious dress if they had consulted parents and the community widely beforehand and had valid reasons. But he added: "If a school feels comfortable that religious dress does not present a barrier to learning, their uniform will reflect that."

The guidance, from the Department for Children, Schools and Families, goes on to warn that heads face fines if they insist on expensive uniforms-that can only be bought from selected outfitters.

The rules also state that:

• Clothing associated with gangs such as badges or bandannas should be banned;

• Hairstyles such as cornrows - plaits along the scalp - are permitted since they could be worn by 'specific racial groups';

• Schools should consider using reflective materials in uniforms to encourage pupils to walk or cycle;

• Pupils who breach uniform rules can be sent home to change their clothes without being formally suspended.

Source: Daily Mail (English)

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