The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has recently reported that uniform and appearance policies that ban certain hairstyles, without the possibility for making exceptions on racial grounds, are likely to be “unlawful.”
A BBC article on this presented the issue as a significant challenge for schools, noting a case of legal action being taken against one school.
Ruby Williams, who was repeatedly sent home from school because her Afro hair was deemed “too big” received £8,500 in an out-of-court settlement after her family took legal action against The Urswick School in east London. The school did not accept liability.
“Fifty-eight per cent of black students have experienced name calling or uncomfortable questions about their hair.”
However, rather than being a challenge, the EHRC report really should be seen as an opportunity for school leaders to ensure that uniform policies are documents that can help us express our support for diversity and equality.
Some schools might argue that it is tacitly understood that natural Afro hairstyles are permitted – as an unwritten rule. But even this suggests tolerance for a “different” sort of hairstyle rather than genuine equality.
An organisation that is helping lots of schools and other institutions across the country in drafting uniform policies that properly address this issue is the Halo Collective. Research suggests that 46 per cent of parents around the country say that their children have been penalised for Afro hair and that 58 per cent of black students have experienced name calling or uncomfortable questions about their hair.
It is clearly an issue that needs tackling as part of the wider effort to combat racial discrimination. The “Halo Code” that they present for schools is very straightforward. It would fit with any uniform/appearance policy that I have seen, and would allow your school to very overtly demonstrate its equality to an inclusive school community. It says that Afro-textured hair worn in all styles, including with headscarve and wraps, is welcomed in the school. (See here for the full text).
“The Halo Code would fit with any uniform/appearance policy that I have seen.”
More broadly, if schools are looking to address concerns of diversity and equality then another organisation that can really help is Global Equality Collective, a rapidly growing community of thought leaders in diversity, equality and inclusion, and the “GEC App”. This is the “world’s first diversity and inclusion app for schools and businesses” that now supports hundreds of schools globally. The GEC was co-founded by Nic Ponsford, an award-winning Advanced Skills Teacher who was headhunted by the DfE for central roles during the pandemic.
The multi-award winning GEC App helps school leaders to assess how well their own school is addressing these issues and, crucially, gives them targeted advice on what they can do to be better, with an Action Plan and “Netflix” style CPD hub for all staff.
The “GEC Library” includes not only e-learning modules on uniform and dress codes, but also neurodiversity, flexible-working, anti-racism and “Global Citizenship.”
The wider “Collective” community also provides a fantastic resource for schools to draw on for advice, guest speakers and workshops that can support their school community. Any school that is really serious about addressing the issues of diversity and equality that are of particular importance to young people should contact the GEC.