Published on 17 Jun 2011 Sections

School haircut ban is ‘unlawful, indirect discrimination’

The High Court rules that a successful North London school’s anti-gang policy of banning certain haircuts is “unlawful, indirect racial discrimination” after a pupil was excluded for having cornrows.

Child at school with braids

The decision was welcomed by the family of an African-Caribbean teenager whose cornrow braids meant he was turned away at the gates of St Gregory’s Catholic Science College in Harrow, north London.

The 13-year-old teenager “G”, who cannot be named, was refused entry into the school in September 2009, when he was 11. It was to be his first day at the school and he left in tears. Despite his family’s success in gaining judicial review, G does not want to return to the school.

(Pictures posed by models – for illustration only)

A statement from St Gregory’s said that G “was asked to remove the cornrows. He and his mother did not wish to do so, and sought a place at another school. St Gregory’s helped them achieve that and the school is very happy to learn that G is enjoying his schooling there”.

It continued: “Our uniform policy, including that related to hair styles, is fair and equitable to the wide range of cultures which make up our school community and we value the contribution of every child regardless of ethnic or racial background.”

Our uniform policy is fair and equitable to the wide range of cultures which make up our school community. St Gregory’s school statement

The school argues that the ban on cornrows and other unconventional haircuts, which has been in place since 1993, is necessary to stop the gang culture prevalent in the area coming into the school. It says haircuts are used as badges of membership by gangs operating in the part of London in which the St Gregory’s is located.

Judge Mr Justice Collins ruled that the policy was not unlawful in itself, “but if it is applied without any possibility of exception, such as G, then it is unlawful”.

Headteacher Andrew Prindiville had earlier told the court any exceptions would lead to “huge pressure” to unravel a strict policy which was “a vital part” of the school’s success in keeping out unwanted influences.

He said it was likely there would be applications for other styles like “skinhead” cuts, which were common in some east European cultures. However, the judge said he did not find those objections valid, as there was not a shred of evidence to suggest that “anything but choice” could lead to a skinhead haircut.

For G, wearing his hair in cornrows is a fundamental cultural practice. Angela Jackman, solicitor.

After the hearing, G’s solicitor, Angela Jackman of Maxwell Gillott spoke of the importance of the decision: “For G, wearing his hair in cornrows is a fundamental cultural practice which would have had no adverse impact upon the school. His wishes, however, were dismissed by the school without any consideration.”

The school’s governing body will now consider whether to issue an appeal against the High Court’s decision to the Court of Appeal.

Twitter comments: Is a ban on certain hairstyles in schools over gang fears fair or discrimination?
@Broxted In my day it was how one wore one's tie. Gangs will always have reasons to fight. #PeckhamBoyz
@JoRowlingRocks don't think it's discrimination but it smacks of desperation, it's clearly not going to make a difference to gang culture
@grrrth Of course it is (unfair). It's also pointless. Bang gang "colours", so they move on to haircuts. Ban those, so they move on again.
@LoveKarenx Complete indirect discrimination to ban corn rows in a school over gang fear...its like banning ponytails!!!!!!
@dcbcherrygate Its fair to ban hairstyles. Kids must learn that the real world outside of school expects a level of presentation as well.
@SweetAK It's absolutely not fair! It's ignorant misunderstanding of a longstanding cultural style. Cornrows do not begat gangwar. This is another example of generalizing a culture without understanding.
@superlative Yes it's fair, it's just hard to police when some hairstyles are for cultural or religious reasons.
@OfThisWorld N.Clegg, G.Osborn, D.Cameron all have same oxbridge hair cut, why shouldn't kids in London dress like their friends?
@Pippyz Philipa Yes banning certain hairstyles is fair - that's what uniform means.
@Samcornwell I think it's pathetic that the hairstyle case reached the high court. If a school has a dress code - adhere to it.