New Guidelines to Prevent Afro Hair Discrimination in Schools

Pupils should not be stopped from wearing their hair in natural Afro styles at school, the Equality and Human Rights Commission says in new guidelines on Afro hair

This is what hair acceptance looks like. St. William of York School encourage their pupils to embrace their hair and identity. They have taken part in World Afro Day from the beginning six years ago

Britain’s equality watchdog takes action to prevent hair discrimination in schools

We’ve all heard the stories about Black pupils being sent home from school for having the ‘wrong hairstyle.’ It’s obvious to anyone with eyes, that afro hair behaves differently from Caucasian hair. It’s naturally voluminous when combed out and parents will often use protective styles like cornrows or braids to to decrease its volume and help make daily hair care easier. Children were being penalised for having a hair texture that didn’t conform with the school’s policies. Now new guidelines from Britain’s equality watchdog are taking action to prevent hair discrimination in schools.

Uniform and appearance policies that ban certain hairstyles, without the possibility for exceptions to be made on racial grounds, are likely to be unlawful.

Race is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act, which means a person must not be discriminated against because of their hair or hairstyle if it is associated with their race or ethnicity.

This includes natural Afro hairstyles, braids, cornrows, plaits and head coverings, amongst other styles.

The EHRC’s new resources – endorsed by World Afro Day and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education – will help school leaders ensure hair or hairstyle policies are not unlawfully discriminatory.  

Court cases, research and the experience of our stakeholders indicate that hair-based discrimination disproportionately affects girls and boys with Afro-textured hair or hairstyles. The Equality Advisory and Support Service, which provides free advice to the public on equality law, has received 50 calls since 2018 reporting potential cases of hair discrimination.

The children who have suffered hair discrimation

Jahsiah‘s story

Jahsiah was asked to cut and change his hair for school. This caused both him and his family a lot of distress in the first few weeks of Fulham Boys School. They have now agreed with the school that he can wear his Afro, but he is not allowed to wear braids to school.

Jaylen‘s story

Jaylen was put into isolation all day because of his hair on his first day at Robert Clack School, Dagenham. This caused him and his family distress and the school admit that they got this wrong. Jaylen hopes the new guidance will mean no child has to go through what happened to him.

Discrimination can range from describing someone’s hairstyle as inappropriate or exotic through to outright bans on certain hairstyles and bullying. Many of those affected say that their schools lack understanding about Afro hair and the care it needs.

In 2020, the EHRC successfully funded the legal case of Ruby Williams who was repeatedly sent home from school because of her Afro hair.

The resources published on Thursday 27 October include:

  • guidance on stopping hair discrimination, with practical examples for schools on when a policy may be discriminatory, based on real-life experiences.
  • a decision-making tool to help school leaders to draft and review their policies
  • an animated video to raise awareness of indirect race discrimination in schools and what should be done to prevent it

Jackie Killeen, Chief Regulator at the EHRC, said:

“Discrimination based on hair can have serious and long-lasting consequences for victims and their families. As Britain’s equality regulator, we want to put a stop to pupils being unfairly singled out for their appearance in schools.

“That’s why, after working closely with experts and those directly affected, we are launching these practical resources to help school leaders understand the law in this area and prevent discrimination from happening.

“Every child deserves to be celebrated for who they are and to thrive in school without having to worry about changing their appearance to suit a potentially discriminatory policy.”

L’myah Sherae, Founder and Chief Coordinator of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Race Equality in Education said:

“No child should be sent home from school for wearing their natural hair, which is why our All-Party Parliamentary Group wrote to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in October 2021 to highlight the need for new, strengthened guidance. We want Black children across the UK to know that they can be genuinely proud of their identity, not penalised for it. I am therefore pleased that this guidance is now being published, and I am proud to have been involved in the drafting process. 

“Schools should be safe and supportive environments for all pupils, and race equality in education should be a priority for all teachers. These new resources are an important step towards ensuring that the next generation of children are better protected, and the generations thereafter.”

Michelle De Leon, Founder and CEO of World Afro Day said: 

“Contributing to the new EHRC resources has been an important step towards ending hair discrimination, which many children with Afro hair experience on a daily basis.

“Our work supporting families, protecting children and educating school leaders shows that this extra guidance is needed. We hope that these resources will be an effective tool to clarify equality law for teachers and help shift the bias against Afro hair that has become ingrained in some parts of the education system.” 

Preventing Hair Discrimination in Schools

1 Comment

  1. by melissa okine on 23/05/2023  5:05 PM Reply

    So, I am trying to work out how to categorise the fact that schools do not take into consideration Afro hair when planning particular activities.

    Both of my children have Afro hair which I box braid to keep it manageable, the whole process of taking it out, combing, washing drying and re-braiding can take an entire weekend.
    I once had a few days notice that school photographs were being taken at school, meaning my son had to do this with messy hair, as it was coming up to the time where his braids needed redoing.
    Now this week, I am being told that children will be taking part in the Holli festival of paint throwing at my daughter’s school, with no consideration on protecting my daughter’s hair, which has just been braided over the weekend, this means she can not take part as they have nothing in place to minimise paint getting in the children’s hair and have said that they cannot guarantee that paint will not get into the children’s hair.

    I am not sure whether discrimination or lack of equity are the right terms to describe what is going on here.

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